A Place in the Shade-An Engineering Challenge

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Students will demonstrate knowledge of the engineering and design process by creating a structure that provides shade.

Big Idea

Even kindergarteners can participate in the engineering and design process in this challenge in which they try to keep an ice cube from melting.


5 minutes

In this lesson, students will have the experience of developing and creating models, which supports NGSS Science and Engineering Practice 2, Developing and Using Models.  The students actually create a model.  This might seem like a challenging task for kindergartners, but as you will see in this lesson, they demonstrate that even the youngest learners are capable of engaging in the design and engineering practice. 

To begin this lesson, we start by discussing what it means to be shaded.  I say to the students, When it is really hot outside, I like to find some shade.  What does the "word" shade mean?  That's right, it means to have the sun blocked.  So, on a hot day, I am cooler if I am in the shade.  What types of things might provide shade?  The students come up with a list. I help them with prompts when needed.  This is the list they come up with:

  • trees
  • hats with brims
  • umbrellas
  • buildings
  • canopies
  • tents
  • gazebos

We are going to be creating structures today whose function is to provide shade.  You will have the task of protecting an ice cube that is out in the sun from melting.  Let's find out more about how you will do that. 


15 minutes

Materials Needed:

  • Paper for sketching plans
  • Black construction paper (9x12)
  • White construction paper (9x12)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Tongue depressors
  • Making tape

The above materials are placed in a supply station.  The students can freely access the materials in this station to create their structure.

  • You will also need one ice cube per student in a zipper plastic bag, plus one cube to serve as the control.

I say to the students, Today, you are going to be working with your partners to create a structure to protect an ice cube from melting.  The materials that you have available our in the supply station.  Each group will have a chance to look at the materials in the station, they you will come back to your table and talk about what you want your structure to look like.  Use the paper at your table to draw a sketch of what your structure will look like. 

The students begin working on their plans.  This is not easy for the students, but it is important that this step is included in the process.  I want my students exposed to the NGSS Engineering and Design process.  As they mature and have more exposure to this process, they will improve their planning skills.  I am very hands-off at this point in time.  I may ask clarifying questions but I want them to plan this without my help.  See video

When the students have completed their plans, I have them present them to me and explain what they will be doing.  It is then time to move into our "create" step in the process. 



20 minutes

During this step, the students create their structures.  I remind them to use their plan to help guide their construction.  I assist the students by tearing off pieces of tape and holding pieces together while the students connect them.  See video.  I needed to send a firm ending time, as the students continued to make revisions on their structures.  In some cases, the revisions most likely reduced the effectiveness of the structure.

We then move into the trial section of the lesson.


15 minutes

To test our structures, we go outside and find a sunny location.  The students place their structures in various places in the sun.  (See sample 1 and sample 2)  I check to make sure that none of the structures are in the shade.  I then place an ice cube in a zipper bag in each structure.  The control ice cube is placed in the sun without any kind of protection.

We then wait for the control cube to melt (The students play on the playground while we are waiting).  When the control cube is completely melted, the test is done.  We check the cubes in the structures to see if their is any of the ice cube left.  See video.  We then rank the structures for effectiveness based on the size of the ice cube.  After we have done this, we move inside for discussion.


10 minutes

We place the structures on a table, least effective to most effective.  I then invite the students to come up and look at the structures to identify the characteristics of the more effective structures.  I ask the students the following questions:

  • What things helped the structures protect the ice cube?
  • What things were possibly missing from the structures that did not protect the ice cube as well?
  • Did the color of paper used make a difference?  Why do you think that is?

After the discussion, I have the students move back into their work groups and give them back their structure.  We then move into the lesson closing. 


10 minutes

I say to the students, Now that you have had the opportunity to see what structures were successful and which ones were not, I want you to think about how you would improve your structure.  We will be revising our plans in two days, but to wrap up our lesson, I want you to think about what you will do to improve your structure.

The students begin their discussion and I circulate around the room and visit with each of them about their possible improvements.  After each group has had a chance to share with me, we wrap up our learning for the day.