(Lesson from IEEE’s TryEngineering.org)
In this activity, teams of students in grades 3 -12 explore the engineering design process by building model canoes from everyday materials and testing their design in a basin. The canoes must be able to float for three minutes and, for older students, support a load. Students then evaluate the effectiveness of their canoes and those of other teams, and present their findings to the class.
Grade Level: 3 -12 [ages 8-18]
Time: Two or three 45-minute sessions
After completing this activity, students should have a better understanding of:
- Engineering materials
- Engineering design
- Planning, construction, and testing
As a result of this activity, students should develop an understanding of:
- engineering and design
- problem solving
National Science Education Standards
As a result of activities, all students should develop:
Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry
- Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
- Understanding about scientific inquiry
Content Standard E: Science and Technology
- Abilities of technological design [K-12]
- Understandings about science and technology [5-12]
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Science and technology in local challenges [K-4]
- Risks and benefits; Science and technology in society [5-8]
- Personal and community health; science and technology in local, national, and global challenges [9-12]
Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science
- Science as a human endeavor [K-8]
- History of science [5-8]
- Nature of scientific knowledge; historical perspectives [9-12]
International Technology Education Association
The Nature of Technology
- Standard 1. Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology.
Technology and Society
- Standard 4. Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology
- Standard 6. Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology
- Standard 7. Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history
- Standard 8. Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design
- Standard 9. Students will develop an understanding of engineering design
- Standard 10. Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.
Abilities for a Technological World
- Standard 13. Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems
The Designed World
- Standard 17. Students will develop an understanding of, and be able to select and use, information and communications technologies.
Canoes have been hand-built for centuries. This lesson explores how engineering has changed their manufacturing over time, including the development of durable, lighter materials. Working in teams of “engineers, ” students design and build their own canoe models out of everyday items. Like real engineers, they have design constraints, such as limited mateirals. They test their models on water, where they must stay afloat for 3 minutes carrying a load. Then students evaluate their results, and present their findings to the class.
For each group:
- Popsicle sticks, wooden spoons, small balsa wood pieces, bendable wire (florist’s or craft wire), string, paper clips, rubber bands, toothpicks, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, wooden dowels or other materials, glue.
- Student worksheet
- Teacher worksheet
- Water, large basin or sink, measuring cup or other pouring device
- 1. Show students the resource sheets (pages 5 & 6 of the .pdf) either to read in class or assign as homework.
- 2. Divide the class into groups of two or three students, providing a set of materials to each team.
- 3. Explain students must develop their own working canoe from everyday items, and it must be able to stay afloat without falling apart for 3 minutes. (Note: For older or advanced students, consider adding coins or other weight to the design challenge.)
- 4. The canoe must be at least 8 inches in length.
- 5. Students brainstorm ideas to develop a plan for their canoe. They agree on the materials they will need, and write or draw their plan and present it to the class.
- 6. Students can request additional quantities of materials (up to two sets of materials per team) and trade unlimited quantities with other teams to assemble their ideal parts list.
- 7. Students execute their plans. They may need to rethink their designs, request materials, trade with other teams, or start over.
- 8. Next, teams test their canoes to see if any can float for three minutes.
- 9. Teams complete an evaluation worksheet and present their findings to the class.
- For older students, develop a canoe that can hold a heavy load, such as coins.
- Explore local concrete canoe competitions.
- Write a paragraph or essay on how engineering and materials have changed ship design over the years.
A .pdf of this lesson can be found at TryEngineering.org.