Communication Towers


Name of Activity Communication Towers
Author Ali Boreiko + Jen Scinto
Keywords communication, non-NXT, building, teamwork, social skills
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time <1 Hour Total
Brief Description In this activity, students will better understand the importance of communication for engineers. By completing an engineering challenge silently in groups , they will gain an appreciation for verbal communication.
Lesson Objectives: The objective of this activity is to have students reflect on how they communicate to their classmates and to the teachers. 
Materials Needed: -Found materials (paper, bottles, straws, clothespins, etc)

-An arm’s length of tape

-A separate room/space where half of the students can work (e.g. a hallway or empty classroom nearby).

Procedure Warm up the class by discussing: What is communication? How do humans communicate? Animals? Robots? Who do engineering need to communicate with when they’re working on a project? Who do you communicate with when you’re working on a project? (5-10 mins)

Then, divide the class up into teams of 6-10 people, let them choose their team name. The teams are competing to build the tallest tower. But, the team must build the top and bottom half separately. So, divide the teams up again into two groups, the top and the bottom (each with 3-6 people).

Tell them that the two groups working on the bottom cannot talk, but are allowed to write and draw. The team working on the top is not allowed to write or draw, but is allowed to talk. Let the kids work for ~10 minutes on their part of the tower. They should NOT be able to see the other half of the tower.

Then, each of the two groups (top and bottom) sends a representative to discuss their ideas with the other half of their team to plan how the tower will fit together. They cannot bring any pieces from the tower, just their ideas. Each representative keeps his or her handicap. After they meet for 5 minutes, the representatives return to their groups and continue to build. 

After ~10 more minutes of building, the groups unite and get 5 minutes to connect their tower, all the while with their handicaps. Finally, once each team has a tower, measure them! 

Debrief by asking: What was hard about the activity? Why is communication so important for engineers? (5-10 mins)

Inclined Planes





Name of Activity Inclined Planes
Author STOMP
Keywords inclined planes, ramps, lego, simple machines, found materials
Subject Simple Machines, LEGO Building
Grade Level 4, 5
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will practice building inclined planes of all sorts (tubes, ramps, tilts) in order to have a ball object roll across the table/space.
Lesson Objectives: Use engineering design process to work and collaborate in groups efficiently.
Introduce students to building inclined planes and inspire creativity for the future rube goldberg final project.
Materials Needed: found materials, legos, any classroom materials that seem helpful, tape, poster board, cardboard.
Preparation and Set Up: Spend about five-ten minutes gathering groups and encouraging brainstorming before building. Provide each group an NXT kit for lego parts, tape, and poster board/cardboard.
Necessary Background Inclined planes, slopes, speed, force
  1. Review inclined planes.
  2. Identify the goal: to allow ball to travel at least 2-3 inclined planes across a table or space.
  3. Divide into groups and allow students to develop possible solutions.
  4. Before giving materials allow each group to decide the best possible solution for their group given certain materials.
  5. Allow students to construct/build.
  6. Allow 5 minutes for Testing for each group before redesigning.
  7. Encourage communication within groups.
Extensions: Tell students to use more than 2-3 inclined planes.
Have students incorporate a previous activity (an other simple machine) into their works.
Umbrella Unit/Curriculum (if applicable) Simple Machines

Solar Power





Name of Activity Solar Power
Author STOMP
Keywords solar power, pizza oven, found materials
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Teach students about different uses for solar power and how they work. Then get them to make a solar pizza oven.
Lesson Objectives: Teach students about different uses for solar power and how they work. Then get them to make a solar pizza oven.
Materials Needed: sun, empty pizza box, black construction paper, aluminum foil, clear plastic laminate, glue, tape, scissors, ruler, marker, wood dowel rod, cookie dough (the break and bake kind)
Preparation and Set Up: Link to directions to make the oven:
Procedure Teach basic concepts with the overhead. Do the worksheet. Make the oven.
Modifications: If there is not any sun on the day you do this (very likely in Mass…) you should make sure the teacher can bake the cookies in the teacher’s lounge or something so the kids don’t get disappointed. Encourage the kids to take their ovens home and try them.
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Online Reference(s)

Engineering and Conservation





Name of Activity Engineering and Conservation
Author STOMP
Keywords house, LEGOs, materials, found materials, resources, resourcefulness, conservation, Engineering Design Process, renewable, non-renewable
Subject Non-LEGO, LEGO Building
Grade Level 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will be asked to build a house (out of LEGOs or non-LEGO materials). Students
will not be aware that after the first house they will be asked to build a second house
using the materials that they have left over. This will continue until it is impossible for
the student to build more houses. This should lead to a discussion on resource use and
engineering while being aware of conservation.
Lesson Objectives: - To reinforce the Engineering Design Process.
- To teach students about the relationship between engineering and conservation.
- To teach students how they can participate in conservation.
Materials Needed: Planning Worksheet
Review of Activity Worksheet
One kit per pair of students
Preparation and Set Up: Make enough copies of the worksheet for each
student (attached)
Setup the PowerPoint presentation (attached)
Gather materials and make kits for students to use
Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Engineering Design Process
Renewable vs. Non-Renewable
  1. Arrange students into pairs
  2. Discuss the Engineering Design Process. Tell the students that their task is to design and build a house. DO NOT TELL STUDENTS THEY WILL HAVE TO BUILD MORE THAN ONE HOUSE
  3. Pass out the planning worksheets and have students plan their design.
  4. When students have completed their designs pass out the kits and allow the students to build their design for 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. When students have completed their first house have students place their houses on a desk/table and sit back down.
  6. Next, tell the students that their next task is to build a house out of the left-over materials and that they house must meet the same requirements of the first house.
  7. Some students may not have enough materials left to build a second house, if this is the case, allow groups o combine resources so that they can build a second house.
  8. If all the students have enough materials to build a second house that meets the requirements, have the students build a third house. By the time the students get to the third house they should pretty much have run out of materials.
  9. When the students have finished pass out the second worksheet and then discuss as a class the following issues, you can use the attached powerpoint in this discussion:
  • What would you have done differently if you knew that you had to build more than one house?
  • How might this relate to the real world?
  • What if you were required to build a neighborhood and you only had a certain amount of timber/bricks?
  • What are some resources that we use a lot of?
  • Could we run out of these resources (are the renewable, non-renewable)?
  • What are some ways that we can conserve these resources?
  • What can you do personally to reduce your impact on the environment?
Extensions: If there is enough time at the end of this lesson have the students build three houses that
meet the requirements with all the materials to show that if you use fewer resources for
each house then you will have enough to build more houses.
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Everyday Materials Backscratcher





Name of Activity Invent a Backscratcher from Everyday Materials
Author Tufts STOMP
Keywords found materials, recyclables, design, assessment
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students are given a variety of every day materials and recyclables. With these materials, students will need to create a back-scratching device. Once all the students have completed their backscratchers, they are assessed within the class.
Lesson Objectives: To learn about designing for real life problems.
Materials Needed: Tape
Paper towel rolls
Any other materials the instructor wishes to provide.
  1. Prepare a table or station with the materials the students will use. Make sure that there are enough materials for the class.
  2. Introduce the activity and allow the students to look over the materials so that they can brainstorm.
    1. Pose some questions to help with brainstorming:
      1. What is a good design for a backscratcher?
      2. Which is it hard to scratch your back?
      3. Why is it better to use a backscratcher than use your hand?
  3. Have students brainstorm their idea on a sheet of paper, they must sketch their design before they are allowed to build.
  4. Check that designs are well thought out and not dangerous before allowing students to start their projects.
  5. When students have completed their backscratchers, have students lay them out on a table so that everyone in the class can see each design. Encourage student to carefully try out different designs. Remind them to be respectful of everyone’s designs.
  6. After everyone has had a chance to see all the designs, gather the students for a class discussion. Ask students:
    1. What worked best?
    2. What materials did you use? Which materials worked best?
    3. What would you do differently?
    4. What else could you use to build a backscratcher?
    5. What else could the backscratcher be used for?
    6. What is your favorite design and why?
    7. What makes the designs different from each other?
Extensions: Students an make an advertisement for their backscratcher.
Reference 1

Making Lightning





Name of Activity Making Lightning
Author Ramona Gravesande
Keywords found materials, electricity, current, lightning, electrons, protons, thunder
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will use household materials to create an electric current similar to lightning.
Lesson Objectives: To teach students how lightning forms and why it strikes.
Materials Needed: Aluminum pie pans
Styrofoam plates
Wool cloth
Preparation and Set Up: Gather necessary materials.
Arrange student into groups of 2 – 4.
Distribute necessary materials.
Necessary Background Lightening occurs when a connection is made from electrons in the bottom of a cloud to protons in the ground. Electrons in the bottom of the cloud are attracted to the protons in the ground. When the connection is made the protons rush to meet the electron and that is when you see lightening. A bolt of lightening heats the air along its path casing it to expand rapidly. Thunder is the sound caused by this rapid expanding air.


  1. Push a thumbtack through the bottom center of an aluminum pie pan.
  2. Push the eraser of a pencil through the thumbtack to make a handle to lift the pan.
  3. Take a styrofoam plate and rub the underside with wool  for one minute, rubbing hard and fast.
  4. Pick up the pie pan with the dplace it on top of the upside-down styrofoam plate again.
  5. If students do not feel anything they should rub the styrofoam plate again and touch the pie pan with the lights out and see what happens.
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Invertebrate Movement and Jet Propulsion





Name of Activity Invertebrate Movement and Jet Propulsion
Author Emily Ryan and Chris Paetsch
Keywords invertebrate movement, jet propulsion, modeling, squids, planes, invertebrate, vertebrate, found materials
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description This activity teaches about the differences between invertebrates and vertebrates, engineering modeling, and specifically about how squids and planes use jet propulsion. Students will see slides of invertebrate movement, and then work in teams to model jet propulsion in a hands-on activity.
Lesson Objectives: To learn about the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates.
To learn about jet propulsion.
Materials Needed: String
Preparation and Set Up: Collect information on vertebrates and invertebrates.
Collect necessary materials.
Arrange students into groups of 2 – 4.
Distribute necessary materials.
Necessary Background Two organism classifications are vertebrates and invertebrates. A vertebrate is any organism that has a backbone, whereas an invertebrate does not have a backbone. Body structure is an essential component in determining how an organism will move, or its mode of locomotion. In vertebrates, the body can be held upright by the structure of the backbone and any connecting bones in conjunction with muscles attached to the bones. An excellent example that the students can relate to is their own body. They can think about what they would look like without a backbone and how that would affect their movement.
Invertebrates have a variety of methods of movement, different than humans. The most similar movement would be of organisms with an exoskeleton. For these creatures, the muscles do not connect to internal bones, but rather to the outer shell. Examples of these organisms are lobsters, crabs, beetles, and butterflies. From these examples, the students can see that some invertebrates walk and some fly. The worm is a classic invertebrate. It moves by muscle contractions. Many invertebrates live in the water. The currents of the water and the buoyancy make movement easier. The octopus uses the suction cups that cover its tentacles to grab onto rocks and pull itself along. Barnacles and mussels do not have moveable limbs, but they can travel throughout the ocean by secreting cement and gluing themselves to ships, whales, or rocks. Squids, octopus, and jellyfish use jet propulsion to move quickly through the water. They can draw water into their body and then quickly squeeze it out sending them forward. Jet propulsion is used by jets, not with water but with air. Air is drawn in, heated to cause it to expand, and then it is forced out shooting the plane forward. This movement demonstrates how every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Another element to this activity is the idea of modeling nature. In the world around us we can see how many biological functions have been modeled by engineers and incorporated in machines. The claw of a construction truck mimics that of a crab claw, the aerodynamic shape of a dolphin is used in submarines and torpedoes.

Jet propulsion

  1. Begin by discussing vertebrates and invertebrates.
  2. Pose questions about differences between vertebrates and invertebrates and how these differences effect how they move.
  3. Discuss how invertebrates adapt to their environment and give examples.
  4. The final example should be jet propulsion. Jet propulsion allows squids to move away from predators very quickly. Jet engines use the same principle to fly through the air. You can use this activity to talk about jets.
  5. Give students the challenge:
    1. They are to model jet propulsion using a balloon and other materials.
    2. The class will thread a string (guide string) through a straw.
    3. Using tape, attach an untied blown-up balloon.
    4. Release the balloon and measure the distance traveled down the string.
    5. Have students divide into groups of 2 – 4 and design their own rockets.
    6. Each time a group tests their rocket have them measure how far along the string the rocket traveled.
    7. The students should find that the less mass on the rocket the farther it will travel.
      1. You can relate this to engineering:
        1. Engineers must ensure rockets are as light as possible.
        2. Squids shouldn’t get too big or heavy so they can move faster.
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Animal Adaptations





Name of Activity Animal Adaptations
Author Emily Ryan
Keywords animal adaptations, environments, design, build, unique, animal, animals, found materials, adapt, modeling
Subject Non-LEGO, LEGO Building
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description This activity explores animal’s adaptations to their environments. Students will look at
animal adaptations and then design and build their own unique animal that could live
in their backyard.
Lesson Objectives: To teach students about animals and why they have certain adaptations for
particular environments.
To teach students to design and build a model based on particular constraints.
Materials Needed: pipe cleaners
popsicle sticks
any available building materials
Preparation and Set Up: Gather an assortment of building materials (can use LEGOs or not).
Collect some research on animals and their adaptations.
Pictures of an environment that the animals need to adapt to.
If desired, break students into groups of 2 – 4.
Distribute materials to students.
Necessary Background Animals adapt to their environment in many different ways. The most evident adaptation
is color and texture. Camouflage is used by many animals to protect themselves from
predators. Some examples include tree frogs, polar bears, and iguanas. Animals may also
be colored to make them appear to be something they are not. Moths and butterflies
often have coloration that makes their wings look like eyes. Animals also adapt to their
environment. Giraffes developed long necks to allow them to reach food at the tops
of trees. Arctic foxes have snow white coats during the winter which they shed to
reveal a light brown coat for the summer months


  1. Introduce animal adaptations to students, giving examples of familiar and unfamiliar animals that have different adaptations that help them live in a particular environment.
    1. The attached document labeled AnimalAdaptPres.pdf can be used to present info on animal adaptations to students
  2. Tell students that their backyards have a certain environment.
    1. Have students brainstorm some aspects of their backyard environments including:
      1. Space.
      2. Available foods.
      3. Places to make a home.
      4. Year round temperature.
      5. Dangers (pets/cars/people)
    2. If time, let students draw a picture of their backyard.
  3. Distribute building materials and tell students to build a model of an animal that might live in their backyard. Tell the students to build the animal with adaptations for the environment in their backyard.
  4. At the end of class, have students or student groups present their animal to the class.
    1. Students should mention the adaptations that the animal has.
    2. Students should explain how their animal moves, behaves, what it eats, where it lives, etc.
Reference 1






Name of Activity Levers
Author Laurie Cormler
Keywords levers, found materials, Simple Machines
Subject Simple Machines
Grade Level 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will explore the different classes of levers using simple classroom materials.
Lesson Objectives: - Familiarize students with levers, a type of simple machine.
- Teach students about the usefulness of levers and how they are applied in the real world.
- To introduce vocabulary associated with levers.
Materials Needed: - Lever worksheet.
- LEGO Simple Machines kit.
Preparation and Set Up: - Make enough copies of the worksheet for each student.
- LEGO Simple Machines kit.
- Arrange students in groups.
- Distribute materials.
Necessary Background There are three classes of levers:

Class 1 levers:
- Have the load and effort at the two ends and the fulcrum in the middle.
- Examples include: scissors, seesaws, pry bars.
Class 2 levers:
- Have the effort at one end, the load in the middle and the fulcrum at the other end.
- Examples include: nut crackers, bottle openers, doors, and wheel barrows.
Class 3 levers:
- Have the load at one end, the effort in the middle and the fulcrum at the other end.
- Examples include: fishing pole and hockey stick.

The WORK on either side of the fulcrum is equal to the distance from the fulcrum times the force applied (weight of the object). For levers to balance the work on one side must equal the work on the other side – Force1 * Distance1 = Force2 * Distance2.

first class levers
second class levers
third class levers
simple machines
fulcrum – balance point/point that lever move around (center of gravity)
effort – force needed to lift load
load – object being lifted

  1. Explain to the class the concept of levers. Use the powerpoint attached to explain the three classes of levers, fulcrums, effort and load.
  2. Explain how levers are useful in our everyday life and give some examples.
  3. Pass out the Lever Activity Worksheet
  4. Have students construct levers out of materials in their LEGO Simple Machines kits
  5. following instructions on the worksheet.
    1. Must design the placement of the fulcrum. The fulcrum must be off the surface of the table.
    2. Design must be sturdy
    3. Fulcrum must rotate freely
    4. Use the weighted brick in the kit as the load, place this at one end of the lever.
    5. Students will lift the weighted brick by applying effort to the opposite end of the lever.
  6. Let students experiment with the placement of the fulcrum, load and effort.
  7. Bring the class together and discuss how students were able to lift a load with the least amount of effort. Ask:
    1. What conditions made it easiest to lift your load?
    2. What building difficulties did you come across?
Extensions or Modifications: - Students can use their lever to accomplish a specific task, e.g., lift a LEGO person to the top of a wall.
- Explore different locations for a fulcrum.
- Turn the lever into a catapult.
Reference 1
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