eGFI - Dream Up the Future Sign-up for The Newsletter  For Teachers Online Store Contact us Search
Read the Magazine
What's New?
Explore eGFI
Engineer your Path About eGFI
Overview Lesson Plans Class Activities Outreach Programs Web Resources Special Features K-12 Education News
  • Tag Cloud

  • What’s New?

  • Pages


  • RSS Comments

  • Archives

  • Meta

Chair Lift Challenge

Riding the Chair Lift at Brundage

Lesson adapted from IEEE’s Download the full .pdf


In this activity, teams of students 8 to 18 learn how engineers provide safe transportation in challenging conditions by designing a “chair lift” out of everyday items that can transport a ping-pong ball in a cup from the bottom of a “valley” to the top of a “mountain” along a clothes line or wire without the ball falling out.

Grade Level: 3 -12

Time: One to two 45-minute sessions

Learning objectives and outcomes:

After doing this activity, students should develop an understanding of:

  • civil engineering
  • engineering design and redesign
  • teamwork and problem solving
  • engineering’s role in addressing societal challenges.
National Science Education Standards
CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry, As a result of activities, all students should develop:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry [K-12]

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science. As a result of the activities, all students should develop an understanding of:

  • properties of objects and materials [K-4]
  • position and motion of objects [K-4]
  • energy transfer [5-8]
  • motions and forces [5-12]
CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology. As a result of activities, all students should develop:
  • Abilities of technological design [k-12]
  • Understandings about science and technology [k-12]
  • Understandings about science and technology in society [grades 5-8]
CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives. As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of:
  • Changes in environments [k-4]
  • Science and technology in local challenges [k-4]
  • Populations, resources, and environments [5-8]
  • Risks and benefit [5-8]
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges [9-12]
CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science. As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of:
  • Science as a human endeavor [k-4]
  • History of science [5-8]
  • Historical perspectives [9-12]
Students who demonstrate understanding can:
Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
4-PS3-1. Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.
Engineering Design
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 possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely 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.
MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

The Nature of Technology
Standard 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope of technology.
Standard 2: Students will develop an understanding of the core concepts of technology.
Technology and Society
Standard 4: Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.
Standard 5: Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment.
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 11: Students will develop abilities to apply the design process.
Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems

  • ping pong balls (1 per team)
  • string
  • floral wire
  • pipe cleaners
  • bendable aluminum wire
  • straws
  • paper towel tubes
  • paper clips
  • tape
  • balloons
  • glue
  • foil
  • plastic wrap
  • pulley
  • other items available in the classroom
  • Student resource explaining aerial lifts (page 4 of .pdf)
  • Student worksheet (pages 6 and 7 of .pdf)

1. Show students the student reference sheets. These may be read in class or provided as reading material for the prior night’s homework.
2. To introduce the lesson, consider asking the students if they have ever seen an aerial lift or ski lift. Have them consider the engineering challenges of building such a transportation system.
3. Teams of 3-4 students will consider their challenge, and consider how the available materials might be used to create a chair lift.
4. Teams will develop a detailed drawing showing their lift design, including a list of materials they will need to build it and the chair the ping pong ball will ride in.
5. Students build their lift, and test it under teacher supervision. Each lift must be able to transport the ball up and down “the mountain” without it dropping out of the chair developed to hold it.
6. Students should observe the chair lifts that other teams create, reflect on the challenge, and present their experiences to the class.

Optional writing assignment
Have students write an essay or a paragraph about an environment or location where they think aerial lifts could help lessen ground traffic congestion.
Activity extensions

Have students transport a golf ball up and down the lift instead of a ping-pong ball – or require the chair lift to have two seats (two ping pong balls or a ping pong and a golf ball) – or have one basket going up while another is going down.


See 12 unique ski lifts in action [YouTube 8:44]


One Response to “Chair Lift Challenge”

  1. I am not clear on the direction you want me to go concerning my comment. I do not teach science, but I was enlightened by the different types of lifts they showed in the video.
    There are many thoughts I had as I watched the video. A few were property of objects, motion and forces, and energy transfer. One topic that came up was the area each of these lifts occupied. They were in part chosen because of the physical characteristics they were to be built to perform there job. The size of the mountain and the height of the hill played a role also. One major factor in the type of lift I felt was the number of people it was to service had a role in choosing a lift that would do its job properly.
    Engineering plays a major role in designing a lift that could do a job that it was designed for considering all the factors they would have to deal with when choosing the proper lift.
    My brief statement above is simply stating that this type of lesson described above has many parts to it that a student could learn from. This type of lesson lets them deal with a topic that is probably familiar to them. They are then able to transfer that thought to something that they can relate to also when working on this type of lesson. It is a hands on lesson that allows them to take ownership and have in-depth discussions within a group to analyze and discover what may work and may not work. Why and why not helps in their learning. Every experiment will not be successful and sometime we learn more from mistakes we make as long as we analyze those mistake and understand and question why they were not successful.

Submit a Comment

By clicking the "Submit" button you agree to the eGFI Privacy Policy.