Saturday, September 29, 2012

Engineering Challenge- and a Place Value Freebie!

Okay, we did this as part of our BFG Day, but this is an activity I love. It's perfect for a day right before a big school break, when your kids are crazy active anyway and you don't really have any specific content you have to cover but you still want to do something educational.

I gave my kids an engineering challenge. First, we talk about what an engineer does.

Then, the challenge: They are to make a chair that Mr. Potato Head can sit in. (My college program used a teddy bear, so any kind of little classroom mascot will work!) Their first goal is for their chair to hold him, so I let each person feel the size and weight of him in their hands.

If they create a chair that holds him, and so do other groups, the winning chair will be the one that holds him the highest off of the ground. (I measure to the very bottom of his feet.)

The trick is... they only get to use paper and tape.

My kids immediately start balking. "Not even SCISSORS?!"

Nope. Just paper, and tape. They're welcome to tear the paper, if they'd like, but each group gets only a stack of computer paper and a roll of tape.

Some groups made lots of plans.

Most groups started together on one central idea, but one group let each kid make their own design and then picked the best one to work on together towards the end. One group started out with something resembling a chair...

That ended up looking nothing like a chair.

Some groups got started immediately-




And... whatever this is?

Some groups worked really well together.

And of course, some groups got to learn a lot of group work skills. (I let them work it out on their own as much as possible- very interesting to watch the dynamics!)

For my ESL kids, I heard so much authentic language practice- and they were having a blast.

For my autistic child, having to consider the ideas of others in the group and compromise was a challenge- but by the end, that child was working right alongside the group.

I loved how different they all turned out. Two looked so organized, like they had a clear plan.

Two looked... well, not.

But will they hold Mr. Potato Head?

They ALL did!

Yes, we measured to find the top winner, but really, all of my students had a great time and I could tell they were all pretty proud of the chairs they completed.

One group wasn't the highest, but tested how much weight theirs could hold. Check it out:
 A lot of fun, for sure.

Tweak it for your classroom!
  • Look at pictures of famous architecture for ideas.
  • Have each student or group draw out and label their plan beforehand.
  • Give students a limit of how many sheets of paper to use.
  • Give students a strict time limit.
  • Award winners for different categories- Holds Most Weight, Tallest Chair, Most Comfortable Chair, etc.
  • Change the challenge to fit a specific holiday! Maybe it's a chair for your Elf on the Shelf, or maybe it's a leprechaun chair. You could also use it as a way to recycle paper on the last day of school!
  • Ask students to write about what they did and learned. You could even have them try a second time to see if they change their tactics.
One more thing before I go!

I meant to share this forever ago, but here is a Place Value Scoot game that I used to assess where my 3rd graders were with 2nd grade place value skills. It includes expanded form, standard form, word form, value questions, place questions, and goes up to the hundreds place.

Just like everything else I share... it's free! :) Please take the time to leave a quick note of thanks (and follow me!) if you grab the Place Value Scoot freebie!

Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. LOVE your engineering challenge! What a fun activity! They look great. :)


  2. Lots of critical thinking and creativity going on fun! I bet the kiddos loved it. :o)
    Traditions Laughter and Happily Ever After

  3. Very interesting and looks like loads of FUN! =)

    Mrs. Dwyer’s A+ Firsties

  4. I love your engineering challenge, because it really challenges kids to think. Thanks so much for the place value scoot.
    Tales from a Fourth Grade MathNut


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