Engineering Challenge - Saving Freddie

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SWBAT work with another engineer to solve a problem with constraints and criteria for success.

Big Idea

Learn the basics of engineering vocabulary - problem, constraints, criteria for success in the sweet engineering challenge.

The Need for the Lesson

Preconceived ideas about engineering can make students and some adults a little nervous about taking their first class in engineering. Saving Freddie is an introductory activity designed to be implemented the first or second day of class.

Students will learn the difference between science and engineering and how they are connected.

The basic vocabulary of engineering is introduced and applied to a simple engineering challenge.

Students have fun, laugh and are challenged as they are introduced to engineering.

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

Students will learn and use the vocabulary of engineers, defining problems, constraints and criteria for success. (MS-ETS1.1 - Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.)

Students collaborate to design and implement a solution to Freddie's capsized canoe problem. (MS-ETS1.2 - Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.)

Students are encouraged to modify their design as needed to keep Freddie and his lifesaver safe from hurt or damage. (MS-ETS1.3 - Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.)

An important understanding for students in that engineering is an iterative process. They will design and test solutions multiple times. (MS-ETS1.4 - Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.) 

After implementing their successful solution, students will demonstrate their understanding of key engineering vocabulary and write step-by-step instructions for success. (WHST.6-8.2Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.)

A complete materials list can be found in the resources section.

Students in Action

45 minutes

This lesson introduces students to the key vocabulary of engineering. It is a first lesson to provide a an introduction to the engineering process.

I tell students that scientists ask questions and seek to find answers about the physical world. Engineers use the answers found by scientist as a basis for their design to solve problems.

I ask how many students have heard about Apollo 13. A few many have heard of the movie, but my students are too young to be able to tell the story.

My introduction to the film clip includes a brief summary of the Apollo 13 mission. Three astronauts aboard Apollo 13 were on a mission to land on the moon when an oxygen tank exploded on board their spacecraft.

Imagine that you are in space and your vehicle has been heavily damaged. The damage has caused a limited power supply, loss of heat, shortage of water and an excess of carbon dioxide in your breathable air. There is no International Space Station or Shuttle that can come to your rescue. You must find a way to fix the problem if you want to return to Earth.

This short clip will show you what happens when the Apollo 13 commander realizes that the mission has a serious problem and how the engineers respond.


I tell students that the astronauts did make it safely back to Earth. I share that I remember how people all over the world watched and waited for the reentry of Apollo 13 into the Earth's atmosphere. 

There are three basic vocabulary words that we need to know to describe the engineering design process. 

First, engineers begin with a problem. What was the problem on-board Apollo 13? They needed to filter their air supply to keep the astronauts from being poisoned by excess carbon dioxide.

Next engineers have constraints. I model the word constraint by putting my hands behind my back. What do you think constraint means? It is something that hold you back. What constraints did the crew members and engineers have that created challenges for solving their problem? The crew members and engineers could only use supplies found on-board the space craft.

Finally , engineers have predefined criteria for success. What was the criteria for success for the crew members and engineers? The filter system must be repaired and the astronauts return to the planet safely.

Today you will be saving Freddie the worm.

The Problem

Freddie (gummy worm) was happily sailing along in his canoe (clear 9 ounce plastic cup) when suddenly his canoe capsized. His lifesaver (gummy lifesaver) is underneath his canoe. Freddie fortunately and landed on top of his canoe. You must find a way to set the canoe upright, put the lifesaver around Freddie's middle and place him in the canoe.

Of course Freddie cannot enter the water (sit on the table). Why not? Why are worms always found on sidewalks and parking lots when we have heavy rains? Worms homes become flooded and they cannot breath.

The Contraints

You cannot touch Freddie, his canoe or lifesaver with your hands. You can only use two large paperclips to rescue Freddie. 

The Criteria for Success

You cannot stab Freddie, you could hurt him. You cannot stab the lifesaver, it may deflate. The lifesaver must be around Freddie's middle, not simply around his anterior or posterior ends.

This short video shows students as work putting the lifesaver on Freddie.


In this short video, I explain how I use the power point in the resources section to support students through the writing process.