Lesson Plan

Design-Build Challenge! (Force and Motion)

Using knowledge of forces, levers, magnets, and inclined planes, and given certain materials, student design/build a contraption that will send an object (ping pong ball) as far as possible. #STEMchallenge
Susan M.
Blended Learning Coach
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My Grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts

Students will be able to...

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 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.
  • Work collaboratively.
  • Implement the engineering design process with multiple iterations of their design. 

This design/build challenge is best used after an extensive study and exploration of force and motion and simple machines such as inclined planes and levers. This challenge focuses on applying knowledge already learned rather than learning concepts as they design. 

Grades 3 – 5
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Presenting the Challenge

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As stated in the student objectives, this challenge follows learning force, motion, and magnetism. Now students will have an opportunity to apply their learning to a design/build challenge. You can have as many testing cycles as you want. 

The presentation of challenge can be whatever you would like it to be--using a Prezi, E-Maze, even creating a fun video presenting the kids with the challenge.  Giving them the process ahead of time will help them see where they are going and understand better the idea of redesign to improve.

  1. The Challenge: Using your knowledge of forces, levers, inclined planes, and magnets,  build a contraption/ machine that will send an object (ping pong ball) as farthest distance possible. 
  2. Material Constraints: Each group receives the following in a brown paper bag:​
    15 popsicle sticks
    3 straws
    5 rubber bands
    3 ft of masking tape
    1 plastic spoon
    4 paper clips
    1 styrofoam cup
    1 pair of scissors to use
    1 ping pong ball to test with  


  3. Time Constraints: Students will have a certain amount of time (you can decide) to create the contraption for the first testing cycle. 
  4. First Test: Students will then test their designs and collect/measure distance. 
  5. ReDesign: Students will then go back to their design and redesign to improve it to make the ball go farther.  Students will keep track of what they change.
  6. Second Test: Students test again, collect data and compare. 
  7. Conclusion

Divide into groups, preferably 4-5 students per group. Teach and model a simple data table to help them collect their data. Encourage them to use Educreations to visualize their thinking. 

Student Instructions

Students receive the challenge and have an opportunity to ask any clarifying questions. Student organize themselves into groups, gather materials, and set up data tables. 

2 Design and Build

Teacher facilitates groups and learning, asking questions and helping to guide thinking and application of force and motion concepts to design. Teacher also monitors time. 

Student Instructions

Students work together to create a contraption. Students use Google Docs/Sheets (preference) to record data and use Educreations to visualize thinking.  If students have iPads, they can use cameras to take pictures of the different steps along the way and import them into their data tables. 

Options: If students have cameras, they can record their work and discussion. 

3 Test, ReDesign, and Test Again

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Teacher facilitates testing process. 

Discussion points:

  • What do you think worked in your design?
  • Based on your data, what do you think you want to change about your design? (Encourage one thing at a time)

Once students have collected data, teacher refers back to original presentation for next steps: ReDesign and Test Again.  Monitor time and facilitate groups.

Conduct second set of testing. Can continue with more iterations as needed. 

Student Instructions

Students test their designs, measuring and collecting data. Once collected, they regroup to discuss results, possibly comparing with other groups, and then going back to their design and consider a ReDesign for improvement for the next testing. 

Students can record and take pictures of design as needed.  Students redesign, noting changes, and then testing again for new results. 



4 Conclusion and Presentation

Teacher shows example of a good presentation  of data collected, reflections on process, and next steps.  Teacher guides them to presentation expectations:

  • reflect on the design process
  • materials used
  • force and motion concepts integrated into the design
  • collaboration in the group
  • their final design and data
  • next steps and recommendation for more redesign, if needed.  

Students can choose presentation platform--suggestions are Shadow Puppet EDU, Google Slides, or Keynote. 

Student Instructions

Students compare results and graph differences, identifying design elements that proved successful.  For presentation, students reflect on the design process, materials used, collaboration in the group, force and motion concepts integrated into the design, their final design and data, and next steps and recommendation for more redesign, if needed.  Students can choose presentation platform--suggestions are Shadow Puppet EDU, Google Slides, or Keynote.