Day 2- Engineering and Design: Zip Line

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SWBT use the terms force, friction, motion, and gravity to explain a zipline

Big Idea

Students will design a zip line that can transport a small object at least 5 meters from the top to the bottom under six seconds.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Forces and Motions unit focuses on gravity exerted by Earth on objects, while at rest or during motion. With this in mind, students will investigate types of forces and the effects it has on moving objects. They learn how forces can stop an object from moving, increase or decrease the speed of an object moving, change its direction, and put a resting object into motion. Through models, investigations, research, and the engineering and design process, students learn that gravity is a constant force that impacts an object’s motion. The unit wraps up with students using the engineering and design process to create a zip line to illustrate the effects of gravitational force.

Lesson Synopsis

Today is Day 2 of The Engineering and Design- Zip Line lesson. Students begin in their lab rats' groups, reviewing their prototype design and procedure. Then, they build their zip line and conduct their tests to collect data. They analyze their data and consider making changes to their zip line design. They redesign their zip line and conduct another round of tests. We enter discussion about their designs, experiences, and challenges during the activity. During this discussion, I point out how Newton's three laws of motion apply to the zip line and affected the ping pong ball's movement across it.  After our discussion, students complete a written analysis and reflection of their zip line design and investigation. I collect this and use it as an assessment.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS2-1.  Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

3-5-ETS1-1.  Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well each is like to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering practices:

3.) Planning and Carrying Out An Investigation- Students work in groups to plan and conduct an investigation by designing and creating a zip line that meets specific criteria and constraints.  

4.) Analyzing and Interpreting Data- Students analyze the data they collected during the zip line activity. They use this data to redesign their zip line to get better results.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Day 2-Engineering and Design-Zip Line lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas. These Crosscutting Concepts include:

2.) Cause and Effect- Students conduct an investigation to determine how force, inertia, gravity, friction, mass, acceleration, and actions simultaneously impact the movement of a ping pong ball on a zip line. They use their observations to understand the effects of all three of Newton's Laws of Motion.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

PS2.A - Forces and Motion

PS2.B-  Types of Interactions


Classroom Management Methods

Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirection.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats'” where each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each activity I use lab rats, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include:  Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up.  


30 minutes

Building A Zipline Prototype

I begin today, asking students to take out their Zip Line packet to review their prototype design and procedure with their lab rats' group members. The lab rats material manager gathers the appropriate materials needed for their design and each group works to build their zip line.  While they are working, I circulate the room monitoring groups and checking in with each one to make sure they are on task and following through with their design plan.


Testing the Prototype and Gathering Data

Once students complete their zipline prototype, I have them conduct three trials to gather accurate data and record it in their Zip Line packet. For each trial, they use a data table to record the angle of the zip line is at, the time it takes for the ping pong ball to travel to the other end, and observations of what they noticed..  After the three trials, I have them reflect on the data and describe changes they would consider making to their prototype.  I point out that only one (variable) change (angle, amount of friction, mass, etc) should be considered so data reflects and relates to that particular change. 

They make the modification to their prototype and test this design (conducting three trials again.)  Like the first trial, they record the time and note observations in their Zip Line packet. When they complete the second test, they analyze and compare the data between the two designs and in their packet, write which one proved to meet the criteria.


15 minutes

Guided Discussion

Once all groups have tested and retested their prototypes, we reconvene as a whole class for a discussion.  Here I have groups share their designs, problems they encountered, and how they went about solving.  To facilitate the discussion, I ask students questions like: 

  • Which one of your prototypes worked best? What modification made one of your prototypes better than the other?
  • What helped your ping pong ball travel down the zipline so quickly?
  • How did you work with the friction within your zipline?
  • What was challenging about getting the ping pong ball to get to the other end of the zipline?


I explain how Newton's laws of motion play a role in the zip line design and function. We spend time talking about the effects of gravity and friction on the moving ping pong ball. As the ball is moving across the zip line, gravity is pulling it down while the line is pulling it up. We also discuss how these two forces impact the ping pong ball's acceleration, either slowly or quickly.  I point out that a carrier with more mass will go faster and farther. And finally, I explain how gravity acts on the ping pong ball carrier by pulling it down and the zip line reacts by pulling it up.

Through this discussion, students note the challenges of keeping the ping pong ball challenged and how they compensated for that. In addition, they note how little friction made the ping pong ball go faster, but affected the balance of the ping pong ball.


15 minutes

Analyzing and Interpreting Results

I hand out a zip line design reflection packet and have students write and draw about their zip line and experience. As part of their analysis, I have them draw their final design and label it using arrows to identify the force, friction, motion, and gravity on their design.

Student's final Zipline


Students work on it until the end of class and finish it for homework if needed.

I collect their reflection analysis and use it as a formative assessment.