Wild Water Slide: Engineering and Experimental Design (Part 2/3)

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SWBAT plan and carry out an engineering and experimental investigation about speed using science and engineering practices.

Big Idea

Welcome to the water park! Create a wild water slide and use it to conduct an experiment to answer questions about speed.


Welcome to the physics water park! Middle school students are enthusiastic about roller coasters, water slides and giant water toilet bowls. The Wild Water Slide series of lessons is designed to provide practice planning and carrying out scientific investigations and engineering design processes (SP3). From beginning to end, students ask questions and define problems to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables (SP1) about water slides. Students analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the phenomena they observe (SP4); apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (SP5); construct explanations and design solutions while undertaking a design project (SP6); and engage in argument from evidence (SP7).

Additional connections to Common Core Mathematical Standards in Measurement and Data occur when students collect data and then analyze their data today (Part 2) and in Part 3 of the lesson. Students also access Common Core Language Arts Standards when writing arguments from evidence in Part 3 of the lesson.

This series of lessons can be used or re-used to explore many different concepts including: mass, weight, speed/velocity/acceleration, forces and Newton's Laws of Motion (PS2.A: Forces and Motion). Rather than trying to teach all of these concepts at one time, I choose to concentrate on scientific practice learning objectives and tailor the activities, discussions and assessment to match the objectives.

This series of lessons also provides opportunities to make connections to the Structure and Function cross cutting concept (CCC), which states: structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used. This CCC is most evident when students use engineering practices to design a water slide that uses materials based on their appropriate properties.

The Wild Water Slide series of lessons is a scientific inquiry and engineering design investigation that including lessons taught over the span of 1 week. To help manage the magnitude of this activity, you will find the project split into 3 parts.

  • Part 1 includes the ENGAGE and EXPLORE components of the lesson; Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods. 
  • Part 2 includes the EXPLAIN and EXTEND components of the lesson; Time: 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block periods.
  • Part 3 includes the EVALUATE component of the lesson. Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.


30 minutes

The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far and figure out what it means. This stage of the lesson presents a great place for a quick formative assessment. During this stage of the lesson, I conference with groups to complete Part 2 of the investigation (Consult) as seen on the Wild Water Slide Engineering Design Plan. This second part consists of a consultation with each design team. The design team not only pitches their ideas, but explains their design plan. For additional critical information about the consultation process, view the reflection: Engineering Design Approval Consultation.

After the consultation phase, students complete Part 3 of the investigation (Revise). Using the feedback provided during the consultation, student groups modify or revise the design plan using a different color pen or a separate design plan. Depending on time, completing a final draft of their design plan will develop students' capacity as "thinking writers". (Common Core Production and Distribution of Writing English Language Standards*)

Upon final approval, students are able to move on to the experimental design, build and test part of the investigation.

*Production and Distribution of Writing:

WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

WHST.6-8.5 With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.

WHST.6-8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.


70 minutes

The EXTEND stage allows students to apply new knowledge to a novel situation. The novel situation in this case is using the water slide that students design and build to answer a self-generated scientific question related to the experimental design challenge:

Modify your “wild water slide” to transport passengers at a faster or slower speed.

To connect the engineering design process to the experimental design process, students first complete the Experimental Design Graphic Organizer (Part 4: Design Your Experiment) as shown below:

This graphic organizer helps groups generate and identify independent, dependent and controlled variables for their experimental design. As groups decide which independent variable they would like to test using their water slides, they circle that variable. Since the experimental challenge is related to the core disciplinary idea of speed (as it relates to forces and motion), the dependent variable is speed. If this lesson is being used to support a different core disciplinary idea or is used for practice in planning and carrying out scientific investigations and engineering design processes (SP3), the dependent variable could be anything that makes sense.

The last part of the planning process is for students to finalize the Wild Water Slide Experimental Design Plan. At this point in the year, my students have designed several experiments, so they don't require much instruction or guidance during the process other than to coach them to use precise scientific vocabulary in sections like "Procedure" and complete reasoning in sections like "Hypothesis" as shown in Wild Water Slide Student Work Experimental Design Plan.

As opposed to the Wild Water Slide Engineering Design Plan, where one student records for the group on one plan, each student records on their own experimental design plan. By having each student record the design plan, students are more apt to be engaged with and learn the experimental design process. Since students vary in their ability to understand experimental design, I can review student work to assess for gaps in individual understanding.

Once students have completed the experimental design plan, they schedule a final consultation to receive plan approval. Upon approval, the real fun starts! Students move on to building and testing of the water slide (Part 5: Build and Test). As students build and test, remind students to follow the safety precautions identified in their design plans. A visual of the build and test process can be seen here:

A time-lapse video of the entire building process can be viewed here:

Upon completion of the building and testing of the water slides, students move on to data analysis and evaluation of learning:

Part 3 includes the EVALUATE component of the lesson. Time: 1 - 2 50-minute lessons or equivalent block period.