Day 1- 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 1.5 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

The Engineering and Design- Zip Line lesson takes place of the course of two days. I begin by showing a video of people on a ziplining to spark their curiosity. We engage in a discussion about how it relates to Newton's three laws of motion and how they apply to a zipline. Next, students use an engineering and design planning sheet to identify their task, criteria, and constraints. From there, students work in groups and being planning and designing two different zipline prototypes. They apply Newton's laws of motion by describing the effects of them on their zipline design. After completing two different designs, they discuss each one as a group to decide which design they are going to construct. Once they get teacher approval, they work on creating a procedure for the remainder of the class. Tomorrow they create their prototype and test it out.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support 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.  

Crosscutting Concepts

The 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.  


10 minutes

Spark Curiosity

I begin directing students attention to the whiteboard where I project a video of people on a zipline. I show this video because they are designing a zipline later today to observe the relationship between forces and all three of Newton's laws of motion.


Next, I ask them what they notice? I listen to observations. Then I have them take out their Newton's law of Motions reference sheet from an earlier lesson and tell them think about all three laws of motion taking place at once.

I guide them by asking them some qestions?

  • How did the people move? 
  • Which direction did they move in? 
  • What did you notice about the changes in acceleration? What caused the changes?
  • Were there any forces that may have affected the movement on the zipline Explain. 

I point out that a zipline incorporates multiple forces that include force, friction, motion, and gravity. (These terms are familiar as they have been used throughout the unit)

We discuss briefly and then I show how these terms apply to a zipline.  I do this because I want them to visually see how they apply to a zipline.

After observing their key terms in action, I tell the students they are working with their group to build their own zipline.


20 minutes

What are Ziplines? How do they work?

Here, I briefly describe the use of zip lines and explain how they work. 

  • Initially ziplines were used for transporting goods down mountains, across rivers, and through forests. Nowadays, their uses are much more recreational.

  • A zipline needs to be at a slope so gravity will pull the mass of an object downward and accelerate until friction slows the object down. The tail end of a zipline is slightly uphill to help slow an object and bring it to a rest.


Designing a Zipline

I start off telling students they are going to be engineers during this design process. First, I share that engineers use models and prototypes, smaller versions before creating a real one. I display a picture that illustrates the set-up of the zip line carrier and the forces involved. I have them note how Newton's three laws of motion is illustrated within this image.

This helps students visualize their task.

Zip Line Image

Next, I continue explaining that as engineers they are going to design a zip line that will carry a ping pong ball quickly from one end to another. Part of being an engineer includes identifying problems them creating solutions for them. In this case, they are designing a device that can carry a ping pong ball down 5 meters of line/rope under six seconds.  To help structure their design process, I hand out an engineering and design planning sheet.  I guide them through this sheet starting with Identifying and Defining a Problem to be Solved section. In this section, students write a description of the problem they plan on solving and why it is important to solve it.

Then, I move them onto thinking about what they already know in order to solve the problem of carrying a ping pong ball down 5 meters of  line/rope under six seconds and have them write out an explanation use the sentence frame:

I know____________________ because_________________________________

When students complete their explanation, I call on a few volunteers to share aloud.

Identifying Criteria and Constraints

Before students identify certain criteria and constraints for their design. I explain that the criteria for this task is to know the outcomes for their solution.  For this zip line task, students must design a carrier that travels under six seconds while keeping a ping pong ball in a carrier.  I have them note this in the t-chart on their handout. Then I explain that like engineers, they have limitations or constraints to their designs. For them, they are limited to what materials they can use.  I list them on the board and students write them on the right side of the t-chart in the hand out.



30 minutes

Preparing A Prototype

Once we define our problem, criteria, and constraints, I point out that they are working as lab rats to design their prototype. As lab rats, they are creating two possible designs that meet the criteria and constraints of building the zipline. 

To get them thinking, I post some questions on the board to be answered before designing a zipline prototype:

  • How long of a distance will the zip line span?
  • How high should the start and end points be?
  • What will the start and end points be attached to and how can they be secured?
  • How much slack should there be to give the zip line an appropriate slope?
  • What will the weight limitations be?


They use these questions to help structure their ideas in building a prototype. I hand out a Zip Line packet for students to plan out their designs with their group members. Their first task the packet is to think back to Newton's Three Laws of Motion. I have them describe how each law of inertia, gravity, friction, mass, acceleration, and reaction will affect the design of the zip line and motion of the ping pong ball. 

Then, group members brainstorm two possible designs, discuss each one, and select the one they are designing. They check in with me for approval and begin outlining their procedure to construct their prototype.  

Students work on their procedure for the remainder of the class. Towards the end of class, I tell them they will begin building and testing their prototype tomorrow.