Grade Range
3rd-5th
Group Size
2-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Engineering Design
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a ball launching machine based on specific criteria
  • Iteratively test and modify the machine to improve its performance
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Overview

Teach your students about the engineering design process with this fun lesson plan. They will design and build a ball-launching machine to knock down a target. Optionally, they can enter their designs in the 2020 Fluor Engineering Challenge for a chance to win a cash prize for your school! Teachers, note that middle school and high school versions of this lesson plan are also available, as is a Spanish language version of the basic challenge.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • 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.
  • 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.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Make observations and/or measurements to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence for an explanation of a phenomenon or test a design solution.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.

PS2.A: Forces and Motion. Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object's speed or direction of motion. (Boundary: Qualitative and conceptual, but not quantitative addition of forces are used at this level.)

PS2.B: Types of Interactions. Objects in contact exert forces on each other.
Cause and Effect. Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified, tested, and used to explain change.

Materials

If you want to enter your device in the 2020 Fluor Engineering Challenge, you can only use the materials listed below. Each item has a maximum allowable quantity and a point cost (each) that will be deducted from your score. Note that you can cut the materials, but costs are not prorated; e.g., if you cut a piece of paper in half and only use half of it, it still costs 10 points.

Construction Materials
Item Maximum Quantity Point cost (each)
Cardboard (max size 12"x12" or 30x30 cm) 1 10
2 oz paper or plastic cup 10 3
Wooden craft sticks (4 ½" or 11.5 cm) 10 1
Wooden pencils (circular or hexagonal cross-section, approx. 7–8" or 18–20 cm length) 10 1
Paper (printer/copier paper, not construction paper or cardstock; letter or A4 size) 10 1
Rubber bands (size 32, 3" long unstretched and 1/8" wide) 10 2
Cardboard tube (1 unit = 1 paper towel roll or 2 toilet paper rolls) 2 units 9 per unit
Roll of clear adhesive tape (Scotch® tape or equivalent, 1/2" or 3/4" width, max length 500") 1 10
Duct tape (up to 90 feet total, no more than 2" wide) 90 feet 20 (if any used)
Tools and Testing Materials (no point cost)
ItemQuantityNotes
Ping pong ball 1  
Ruler or measuring tape 1  
Scissors 1  
2 oz paper or plastic cup 1 Used to build the wicket

Wooden pencils 2
Rubber or plastic eraser (approximately 2"x1"x1/2") 1
Modeling clay, Play Doh®, or homemade dough. Enough to fill the 2 oz cup halfway
Table 1. Materials allowed for the 2020 Fluor Engineering Challenge.

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Grade Range
3rd-5th
Group Size
2-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Engineering Design
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a ball launching machine based on specific criteria
  • Iteratively test and modify the machine to improve its performance
Free science fair projects.