Design and Build a Road Sign Support

6th - 12th

Emergent engineers plan, construct, and experiment with a spaghetti noodle structure that could be used to hold a load. Set them up for success by first showing them a four-minute video on engineering design and a slide show of different signposts. There is also a super cool interactive website that they can visit to view how different shapes can be strengthened. The lesson plan comes with memorable and modern resources to support the classic hands-on activity.

Resource Details

Instructional Design
4 days

Refrigeration, Lesson Plan

Pass around an ice cube and before long, there's nothing left! Youngsters work in groups to design an insulating food container that will keep cold things cold. Though the publisher designated this as a middle school activity, it is quite appropriate for elementary-aged physical scientists.

Design Engineer Problem

Students design a flower-pot and saucer. In this math lesson, students incorporate the use of technology to correctly build and shape a flower pot. They calculate the necessary mass of the red clay used to make the pot.

Can You Canoe?

A neat handout immerses learners in the history of canoe making. After reading, small groups of mini engineers work to craft a canoe that will not be immersed! This is an ideal exercise in engineering design for your STEM curriculum or as an addition to a physical science lesson on buoyancy.

Dispenser Designs

After reading about the history of tape dispensers, learners compare and contrast different dispenser designs. Next, teams work within budgetary and time constraints to design a better dispenser. When finished, each engineer reflects on the experience and answers some evaluation questions. 

Engineer a Dam

To begin the learning about dams, learners read (or are read to, depending on the age group) a passage about how dams work. Next, they work in groups to use the materials provided to build a small scale working dam. After the experience, each young engineer answers some reflection questions.

Hand Biometrics Technology

Electronic engineering hopefuls get hands-on with hand geometry and the technology of biometrics. After taking the appropriate measurement on their hands, they configure their personal hand geometry codes and compare them to classmates. A discussion ensues about whether or not using biometrics is an accurate way to provide identification in situations where security is important. For older pupils, consider staging a debate to argue whether or not this technology is useful and secure.

Building for Hurricanes: Engineering Design Challenge

"By the hair on your chinny-chin-chin, I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in," says the big, bad wolf! Engineering hopefuls are challenged to design and construct a hurricane-proof building from simple office and craft materials. The objective is to have it withstand the weight of a tennis ball and the force of air from a fan. A wonderful, complete resource to foster engineering and design skills in youngsters!


Engineering design projects serve as great opportunities for collaborative problem solving. In this case, students work in small groups designing, building, and eventually testing a structure that meets a teacher-specified objective. It could be making the tallest tower, or creating a structure that can support the most weight. The lesson concludes with a discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of the different designs, making comparisons with real-world structures and practical applications. Consider setting a side one hour each week for this and other engineering design challenges, teaching young learners how to apply their knowledge and experience to creatively solve problems.

The Engineering Design Process

Design your own video game, engineer accident-proof highways, or even develop a new phone app! The Engineering Design Model can be used with all ages and in all subject areas to create a product, system or service. The resource explains all the steps in the design process in detail, and it includes tips for incorporating engineering design in the classroom.  Resource links are provided.

Marshmallow Design Challenge

How tall is your marshmallow structure? Using only limited supplies (including uncooked spaghetti noodles, masking tape, and one marshmallow), teams endeavor to support the marshmallow atop the tallest spaghetti structure they can build. Interestingly, this instructional activity includes a debrief aspect which features a TED Talk on the challenge and the tendency of children to be more successful than college students. Videos of both the TED Talk and the last few minutes of a high school challege are includ

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