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Volleyball Machine Challenge for Middle School

Grade Range
6th-8th
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 "volleyball machines" based on specified criteria.
  • Iteratively test and modify the machines to improve their performance.

Overview

Teach your students about the engineering design process with this fun lesson plan. They will design and build two "volleyball machines" that launch a ping pong ball back and forth over a net. While the 2019 Fluor Engineering Challenge is over, your students can still try this project and compare their scores to top scores from around the world! Teachers, note that elementary school and high school versions of this lesson plan are also available.

Looking for this year's challenge? Check out our main Fluor Engineering Challenge page for all the latest information, including for a chance to win a cash prize for your school or nonprofit!

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Undertake a design project, engaging in the design cycle, to construct and/or implement a solution that meets specific design criteria and constraints.

Optimize performance of a design by prioritizing criteria, making tradeoffs, testing, revising, and retesting.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.

There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution. The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.
Structure and Function. Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

Systems and System Models. Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

This engineering project is based on the "Beach Volleyball" friendly competition designed by employees of Fluor Corporation located in Southern California.

Materials


Engineering Challenge.

Construction Materials
Item Maximum Quantity Point cost (each)
Corrugated cardboard (max size 12"x12" or 30x30 cm) 2 10
Large paper or plastic cups (16–18 oz, or about 450–500 mL) 10 5
Wooden craft sticks (4 ½" or 11.5 cm) 20 1
Paper (printer/copier paper, not construction paper or cardstock; letter or A4 size) 20 1
Wooden pencils (circular or hexagonal cross-section, approx. 7–8" or 18–20 cm length) 20 1
Rubber bands (size 32, 3" long unstretched and 1/8" wide) 10 2
Roll of clear adhesive tape (Scotch® tape or equivalent, 1/2" or 3/4" width, max length 500") 1 10
Tools and Testing Materials (no point cost)
ItemNotes
Paper and pencilFor sketching design ideas
Scissors For cutting construction materials
Sheets of paper (2) For making net
Tape For holding net to floor/table
Ruler For checking net dimensions
Ping pong ball  
Table 1. Materials allowed for building a volleyball machine for the 2019 Fluor Engineering Challenge.

Note: material costs are not pro-rated. For example, if you use any tape, it still costs the entire 10 points, even if you do not use the whole roll.

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Grade Range
6th-8th
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 "volleyball machines" based on specified criteria.
  • Iteratively test and modify the machines to improve their performance.