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12+ Engineering Challenges for Elementary School

Teach students to think like engineers with fun hands-on building and design challenges. Spark interest and build confidence with one of these free engineering projects for elementary school students.

Images of 12 student Engineering Design Challenges for elementary school students, including slime, DIY sports equipment, water wheel, bridge design, vibrobots, paddle boats, paper tower, and more (described and linked below)

12+ Engineering Projects to Inspire Elementary School Students!

Engineering design projects and challenges are a great way to ignite student interest in STEM. When students tackle an engineering design challenge, they are encouraged to brainstorm, design, build, test, problem solve, troubleshoot, tinker, innovate, and iterate.

Try one of the 12+ engineering design projects below with K-5 students to create fun, confidence-building opportunities for innovation and invention. Many of these challenges use simple materials (like paper and recycled cardboard), which makes them easy to do in the classroom, great for makerspaces of all sizes, and fun for families at home or for independent student exploration.

  1. Paper Bridge Design Challenge: design and make bridges out of folded pieces of paper and test to see which shape can hold the most weight. (Tip! Continue this exploration with the Paper Bridge Materials Challenge.)
  2. Invent an Insect: learn about insect adaptations and invent a new insect designed to live in a specific environment.
  3. Slime Shop: Engineer Your Own Slime: use the engineering design process to create custom formulas for making slime.
  4. Build a Balloon Car: build and race balloon cars while learning about kinetic and potential energy and the conservation of energy. (Note: See also the 13 Activities and Lessons to Teach Potential and Kinetic Energy resource.)
  5. Solar-Powered Cars for Junior Solar Sprints: build and test solar-powered cars to explore electronics, alternative energy, and the engineering design process.
  6. Tallest Paper Tower Challenge for Grades 3-5: build a tower as tall as possible using only paper and tape. The tower needs to be sturdy enough to support an unopened can of food for at least sixty seconds. (This was the 2021 Science Buddies Engineering Challenge! Learn about other Science Buddies Engineering Challenge projects.)
  7. Make the Fastest Rubber Band Paddle Boat: experiment with different designs and materials to see which can be used to make the fastest rubber band paddle boat.
  8. Build Your Own Sports Equipment: choose a sport (or invent a game) and use recycled and craft materials to make the tools you need to play.
  9. Design Vibrating Robots: students can explore a range of materials, shapes, and designs for the bodies and legs of these simple robots.
  10. Cricket Wicket Knockdown Challenge for Grades 3-5: design and build a device that can launch a ball and knock down a target. (This was the 2020 Science Buddies Engineering Challenge! Learn about other Science Buddies Engineering Challenge projects.)
  11. Protect Your 'Eggstronaut': Build an Egg-Drop Lander: learn about Newton's laws of motion and potential and kinetic energy while designing and testing a device to protect an egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.
  12. Build a Machine to Lift Water: students tackle a hypothetical real-world problem and build a device that can manually pump water during an emergency. (This lesson connects with Season 1 of Global Problem Solvers: The Series.)
  13. Wind Maze: design a wind maze, a device that can direct the wind along a specific path, and investigate how to guide wind where you want it to go by creating curves and bends in the maze.

See the Engineering Design Process in Action

For additional resources to help teach students about engineering design, see 4 Ways to Teach Engineering Design.

The Engineering Design Process: An Eggstronaut Mission

Annual Science Buddies Engineering Challenge

The Science Buddies Engineering Challenge takes place during February-March. Each year, we create an exciting new engineering challenge that uses simple materials and has been carefully designed to create a positive and fun learning experience at all grade levels.

The Science Buddies Engineering Challenge is free to enter and open to K-12 students around the world in teams of 1–4. With an emphasis on getting students to "try" engineering, prizes are awarded each year in random drawings (from qualifying entries).

Engineering Project Videos

Watch these STEM videos to get an idea about some of the engineering design challenges listed above:

Paper Bridges STEM Activity
How to Make Slime
Balloon car lesson plan
Build a Solar-Powered Car for the Junior Solar Sprint
Tallest Tower: 2021 Engineering Challenge
DIY Rubber Band Paddle Boat
Cricket Wicket Knockdown: 2020 Engineering Challenge
Build a Machine to Lift Water - STEM Lesson Plan

Engineering Projects for Other Grade Levels

For engineering activities for other grade levels, see:

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