Boat Building





Name of Activity Boat Building
Author Rachel Yu and Laura Nixon
Keywords boats, materials, float, water, weight, sinking, density, surface area, weight
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description The students build boats out of different materials and then float them in water and
place pennies on the boats until they sink.
Lesson Objectives: Determine what material and what shape of the boat will make the boat that holds the most pennies.
Materials Needed: Tin foil, paper, clay (NOT play dough), Legos, popsicle sticks, tape, pennies, water and basin.
Preparation and Set Up: For the first graders, we gave each group a different material and had them build a boat out
of it. Then, after their first trial, they could choose what material they thought would work
best and make another boat.
Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Surface Area
Procedure x

Paper Towers





Name of Activity Paper Towers
Author STOMP
Keywords towers, constraints, materials, weight, Engineering Design Process, sturdy structures, strong shapes, architect, design, prototype, redesign
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will build towers out of a limited amount of materials that can hold up a set amount of weight (like a stack of books).
Lesson Objectives: To introduce students to the engineering design process.
To teach students about sturdy structures and strong shapes.
Materials Needed: For each student group:

Activity worksheet
18 inches of tape
5 paper clips
5 index cards
8 sheets of 8-1/2 x 11 paper
Some sort of weight to put on the tower (like a stack of books)

Preparation and Set Up: - Arrange students into groups of 2.
- Gather materials and photocopy worksheets.
- Make a poster or handouts of the engineering design process.
Necessary Background The engineering design process is an eight step process that engineers use to design

1. Identify the need or problem
2. Research the need or problem
3. Develop possible solution(s)
4. Select the best possible solution(s)
5. Construct a prototype
6. Test and evaluate the solution(s)
7. Communicate the solution(s)
8. Redesign

You can highlight any of the following vocabulary in this lesson:

Engineering design process

  1. Begin the lesson by introducing the engineering design process. Explain how students will use the engineering design process in their lesson to construct a tower out of paper:
    1. Identify Problem: You need to build a tower that will support a weight (stack of books).
    2. Research: discuss as a class some ways that you might make your tower sturdy, like how to distribute the weight, what shapes might help you, etc.
    3. Develop Possible Solutions: The class will draw out some possible designs on a sheet of papers.
    4. Select the Best Possible solution(s): Student groups should discuss their ideas and select one design to actually build.
    5. Construct a Prototype: Students will build their towers
    6. Test and evaluate: Students will test their designs by placing the weight on their towers. Students can either tests their designs as they finish, or each group can test in front of the class when everyone has finished building. How much weight can the tower hold?
    7. Communicate the solution(s): Have students share their designs. Discuss as a class the following questions:
      1. What designs seemed to work the best?
      2. What were some ways that towers failed?
        1. did they tip over or crush?
      3. What were some shapes that worked best to hold the towers?
      4. What materials seemed to be most useful?
    8. Redesign: In this activity students will not actually redesign their structures, but you should discuss as a class how different groups might improve their designs.
Extensions: Have students redesign their towers. How does the second tower’s performance compare to the first? What were some design changes?
Reference 1

Relay Race





Name of Activity Relay Race
Author STOMP
Keywords vehicles, steep ramp, relay, team, course, cars, gears, weight, weight distribution, friction, power, accuracy, wheel, axle, speed
Subject NXTs
Grade Level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time 2 Hours Total
Brief Description Students will build two types of vehicles, one that is good for going fast on a flat surface and one that is good for climbing a steep ramp. Students will work together to create a relay team of 2 cars that must complete a course with a flat area and a steep ramp.
Lesson Objectives: To learn about gearing and how it can help with climbing ramps.
To learn complex programming that includes Bluetooth for communication between NXTs.
Materials Needed: Poster board, cardboard, wood or foam core for a ramp sloped about approx. 30 degrees from the horizontal.
NXTs or RCXs
Assorted building materials.
Computer running ROBOLAB or MINDSTORMS
Preparation and Set Up: Setup the relay course.
Set up a flat track that is five feet long with a start and finish and set up the ramp.
Collect necessary materials.
Arrange students into groups of 4.
Distribute the necessary materials.
Necessary Background One of the important things about robots is their ability to communicate to each other. Robots are often limited in their capabilities because it is too difficult to construct multi-tasking robots. For this reason, many different specialized robots are constructed, and then these robots are programmed to communicate to each other. For example, a certain Mars rover may specialize in searching for rock, while another may specialize in drilling rock. These two rovers can work together by sending signals to each other, in the same way we communicate, yet simpler. The following activity incorporates specialized robots that can communicate to each other to complete different sections of a single task: a relay race with different terrain.


Mechanical advantage of gears
- Small gear on motor, larger gear on wheel and axle for more torque to drive up the ramp
- Large gear on motor, small gear on wheel and axle for more speed to drive across the floor

Weight distribution of vehicle
- More weight on the front of the ramp vehicle
- Less weight for the entire floor vehicle

- Wide wheels for more contact surface area on the ramp vehicle
- Narrow wheels for less contact surface area on the floor vehicle
- Spacing between wheels and sides of vehicle so that the wheels rotate without rubbing

- Large diameter wheels in the front of the ramp vehicle
- Ramp vehicle should be short in length

- Long floor vehicles with four wheels to ensure that the vehicle travels as straight as possible towards the stationary ramp vehicle

  1. Introduce the activity and tell students that two people in their group will build and program a car to travel as fast as possible on a flat surface, and the other two people will be building a programming a car to drive up a ramp.
  2. Allow students to build their cars. Remind students that gears might help them build a car that can climb a ramp.
  3. Have students program their vehicles.
    1. The first vehicle must travel 5 feet to the base of a ramp and then stop. The students should use time to stop their robot, or use a light sensor if the course is marked with tape.
    2. When the first vehicle stops, it must send a message to the second vehicle (a number). This will trigger the second vehicle to start climbing the ramp.
    3. The second vehicle should start climbing the ramp when it receives the message from the first vehicle.
    4. Communication between RCXs/NXTs may be tricky.
      1. Use the ‘send mail’ and ‘wait for mail’ icons on the floor and ramp vehicle, respectively.
      2. Each group should send a different number so as to avoid confusion between RCXs and NXTs.
      3. Zero the receiving mailbox at the beginning of the program.
      4. Press run on both robots before starting the relay.
  4. Allow students to test their cars and rebuild/reprogram accordingly.
  5. At the end of class gather the students together. Have each team run their cars and time how long the relay takes from start to finish.
  6. Talk about what designs and programs worked the best and how you could improve upon each teams work.
Reference 1

Designing a Parachute





Name of Activity Designing a Parachute
Author STOMP
Keywords parachute, string, weight, target, test, materials, air resistance
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will select one type of paper for their parachute (i.e. tissue paper, napkin, paper towel, etc.) based on what they think will work best. The students will make a parachute with the paper and string and attach a weight. The students will then test their parachute.
Lesson Objectives: To learn about air flow and materials.
Materials Needed: Tissue paper
Construction paper
Paper towels
1/4 lb Weights (a few batteries tied together would also work)
Preparation and Set Up: - Arrange students into groups.
- Distribute materials.
Necessary Background Vocabulary:
Air resistance
  1. Explain the concept of air resistance to the class.
    1. Air resistance is the force that acts on anything moving through the air. It is not very heavy so humans don’t notice it much. Without air resistance things would fall faster than they do. The more surface area an object has the more air resistance affects it. This is why parachuters use wide light materials to slow them down as they fall.
  2. Have students cut a circle with a 6 inch radius of a paper of their choice.
  3. Have students cut 8 12 inch pieces of string and tape them at equal distances around the edge of the canopy.
  4. Tape the other end of the string to the weight.
  5. Drop the parachutes from a decided height and see if it works.
  6. Repeat steps 2 – 5 with all the different papers.
  7. Discuss the activity as a class. Ask the students:
    1. What material worked best for the parachutes? Why?
    2. What didn’t work as well? why?
    3. What changes would improve your design?
    4. What about a larger or smaller canopy?
    5. What would happen if you added more weight?
Extensions: Take the paper material that worked best and test different sized parachutes.
Make parachutes out of different materials.
Have a competition to see what parachute can land most gently.
Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3
Reference 4
Reference 5

Tow Truck





Name of Activity Tow Truck
Author STOMP
Keywords steep, ramp, tow, towing, weight, gears, gear up, gear down, building, design, friction, gravity, center of gravity
Subject NXTs
Grade Level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9+
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Build a car that can climb a steep ramp while towing a weight (10 batteries) behind it.
Using gears to gear down is necessary for this challenge. This activity is more challenging
than a regular ramp climb and may require some complex building and design.
Lesson Objectives: - To learn to build and use gears.
- To learn about gravity, center of gravity, and friction.
Materials Needed: NXT kits
batteries for weight
computers running NXT Software
Preparation and Set Up: Build a ramp.

Set up computers running NXT software.

Arrange student in groups of two.
Distribute necessary materials.

Necessary Background It is more difficult for cars to climb steep slopes for different reasons. In this lesson you
can discuss with the class these different forces that affect the ability of the car to
climb the slope:

Friction – friction is the force acting between the surfaces of the car (tires) and
the ramp surface. This is the force that keeps the car from slipping.
Gravity – gravity pulls down directly towards the center of the earth. On a flat
surface gravity does not pull a car in any direction, but just keeps it in place. On
a slope, gravity pulls a car backwards towards the center of the earth down the ramp.
Center of gravity – Center of gravity is the exact spot on an object where there
is the same amount of weight on one side of the spot as there is on the opposite
side. A high center of gravity means a car is more unstable on a steep slope.
A low center of gravity close to a ramp will help the car stay on the ramp.To
overcome these forces there are several things that you can do to your car:
Low center of gravity – design the car to be low to the ground.
Gear down the car – By adding gears to the motors and then gearing to the
wheel you can increase the power of the motors, which will help the car climb
the ramp. There is more information about gears and gear worksheets in the
attached documents.

Gear Ratios
Center of Gravity

  1. Have students design and build a car that will climb a ramp.
    1. Students will need to think about friction and center of gravity to build their car. If students are unfamiliar with these concepts, you should review the concepts with them. A car that is lower to the ground will be less likely to slip. Wheels that have more traction and greater surface area on the ramp will also be less likely to slip.
    2. Students will need to use gears to gain more power. If students are unfamiliar with using gears, you should review gears and gearing down with the students.
  2. Have students program their cars to move forward for 20 seconds.
  3. Allow students to test their cars on the ramp without anything in tow.
  4. Students should redesign the car if it does not climb the ramp.
  5. Students should then test their cars while towing the weight up the ramp and redesign until the car can tow the weight.
  6. If students have trouble tell them to try various gears, wheels and designs.
Extensions: What is the steepest ramp that the car can climb?
What is the heaviest weight that the car can tow?
Calculate the gear ratio.
What is the quickest that the car can travel up the ramp?
Reference 1
Reference 2
Reference 3
Reference 4
Reference 5
Reference 6
Reference 7

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