Forces of Earth – Meade + Rock

Name of Unit

Exploring the forces of the earth with engineering projects


Rhiana Meade, Amanda Rock

Brief Description

This unit aims to use simple engineering projects with found materials to understand the engineering design process under the broader topic of “the forces of the Earth:” wind, water, etc.


science, found materials, forces of the earth, wind, water, agenziano, murphy, 5th grade

Number of Weeks


Week 1

  • Introduction to science and engineering: 10 minute brainstorm about to understand where the students are coming from
  • Spaghetti tower activity with some adjustments:

  1. Introduce the activity, goal, and materials – students write these down on their worksheets.
  2. Before handing the materials out, spend time individually drawing a design for the towers
  3. Pair up and talk to the partner, strategize a design
  4. 15 minutes to build the towers
  5. 5 minute wrap up

Week 2

Topic: Air resistanceActivity: Based on parachute design:

  1. Brief brainstorm about air resistance and the idea that air is made of molecules (kids already knew this).
  2. Present materials: paper towel, napkins, construction paper, tissue paper, newspaper, string, tape.  They can use scissors and hole punches.
  3. In partners, make 2 parachutes out of two materials.
  4. Test the parachutes by dropping them at the same time.  First have the students make predictions about which will fall first.

Demonstrate dropping a heavy weight and a light dice to show that weight doesn’t matter in speed on falling.  Emphasize that it is about surface area and air resistance.

Take home message from the students: “Objects that capture more air fall slower.”

Week 3

More wind power: Sail Cars with the idea of air resistance, transitioning to the idea of wind power and sailboat.  Each partner designs the car together, and separately designs two sails to test.  Tests are done in the hallway with a desk fan, and we measure how far they go.

Week 4

Anemometer: Design Week 1To see if we can test how fast the wind is blowing, we build anemometers.  Adapted from: Can I build a device to measure the speed of the wind?  Materials: 4 dixie cups, 2 straws, cardstock, pencils, a push pin, tape.  Show pictures of real anemometers, and let them design their own using these household supplies.Spend all of week 1 designing and building.

Week 5

Anemometer: Testing Week 2This week, the emphasis is on data collection.  The fan has 3 speeds, and the students will count the number of turns their devices make at each speed.  Then go outside to test the wind outdoors.

Week 6

Engineering and conservation week 1: students 20 Popsicle sticks, 1 piece of construction paper, and an arms length of tape.  Task: to build a house in 10 mins with some height that can support a book.  After they finish and test them, ask to build another – most students cannot.

Week 7

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