Hands-on Activity Build an Approximate Scale Model of an Object

(0 Ratings)

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 30 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Necessary supplies are readily available in classrooms and homes.

Group Size: 2

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

An example of engineering drawings that include a drawing of a bevel gearset.
A professional dimensioned drawing of an object
Copyright © https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_drawing#/media/File:Engineering_drawings_with_Machinery%27s_Handbook.jpg


Students create models of objects of their choice, giving them skills and practice in techniques used by professionals. They make sketches as they build their objects. This activity facilitates a discussion on models and their usefulness.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Modeling is an important step in the engineering process. Before beginning work on a new project, engineers develop models of what they want the product to look like. Models serve as examples both for those involved in development as well as customers.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should learn:

  • What a scale model is and how to construct one
  • The uses for scale models and why they are produced

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • The design process is a purposeful method of planning practical solutions to problems. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • The engineering design process involves defining a problem, generating ideas, selecting a solution, testing the solution(s), making the item, evaluating it, and presenting the results. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Describe different ways in which a problem can be represented, e.g., sketches, diagrams, graphic organizers, and lists. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Identify relevant design features (e.g., size, shape, weight) for building a prototype of a solution to a given problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Possible building materials:

  • LEGO® bricks
  • PopsicleTM sticks
  • pipe cleaners
  • sugar cubes
  • cardboard
  • candy
  • toothpicks
  • tape and glue
  • paper and pencil

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/build_a_scale_model] to print or download.

More Curriculum Like This

High School Lesson
Exploring Nondestructive Evaluation Methods

Students learn about nondestructive testing, the use of the finite element method (systems of equations) and real-world impacts, and then conduct mini-activities to apply Maxwell’s equations, generate currents, create magnetic fields and solve a system of equations. They see the value of NDE and FEM...

Middle School Lesson
What's Inside Your Bones?

After learning, comparing and contrasting the steps of the engineering design process (EDP) and scientific method, students review the human skeletal system, including the major bones, bone types, bone functions and bone tissues, as well as other details about bone composition. Students then pair-re...


Have you ever built or seen a model car or airplane? They look just like real cars and airplanes, only much, much smaller. These are what you call scale models because they are an exact smaller copy of the real object. Scale models are often built as a hobby, but engineers build scale models as part of the engineering design process when designing objects or structures. There are various ways to define the engineering design process, but all involve the following basic steps:

  1. Identify need or problem
  2. Collect information
  3. Brainstorm ideas to fix problem or satisfy need
  5. Test and analyze model
  6. Make improvements on design
  7. Present results

Developing a model (or working prototype) is a crucial step in every definition of the engineering design process. These small-scale models are built to simulate the real larger objects or structures. Experiments are conducted on these prototypes to test how well they work and determine if the design is safe and effective before building the real-sized structure. It is much easier, safer and less expensive to make design corrections on a model rather than the real object.

For example, if an aerospace engineer was in charge of designing a new satellite to orbit Jupiter, she and her team would build a scale model of the satellite and run experiments on the model before building the real satellite. However, if she skipped the design process of building and testing a model and the satellite did not work properly, she would suffer the consequences of wasting millions of dollars of NASA's funding. As an engineer, it is extremely important to understand the significance of creating a scale model.

For today's task, students will act as engineers to develop a scale model using only the materials available and the duration of the class. Successful scale models must show evidence of very careful craftsmanship and the design should be to scale and detailed with proportional dimensions indicated. Teachers can use the Rubric for Performance Assessment to assess student work. 



Recommended Resources:

The Wikipedia entry for "scale model" contains several good links to modeling concepts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale_model


  • Gather building materials.
  • Obtain or make a scale model of something the students are be familiar with.
  • Have students choose what objects they are going to model. (Tip: You might want to have a few objects for them to pick from; this helps them to choose objects that are not too difficult to accomplish in the time provided.)

With the Students

  1. Explain to students what a scale model is. Show the class an example and discuss with the students why they think that engineers would need to make models before making the real things.
  2. Have students work alone or in pairs to build scale models using the building materials provided. Have teams sketch their objects before building them, and modify the models, as necessary. as they progress.
  3. You may choose to have students build something specific, or with a common theme, or have it be open-ended. An easy criterion is to have students build something that is in the classroom, that way, a variety of objects are available and in front of them. Students could also bring objects in from home.


model: A small but exact copy of something.

scale: The size of a picture, plan, or model of a thing compared to the size of the thing itself.

sketch: A rough drawing representing the chief features of an object or scene.


Grading Rubric: Evaluate student models based on the criteria in the attached rubric, including design planning, construction craftsmanship, accurate sketches with proportional dimensions, and demonstrated understanding of the purposes for and value of scale models.

Scaling their Models: Have students measure the height of their models using a ruler. Then ask students how their measurements will change if the models were two, five and ten times bigger.

Investigating Questions

  • What is a scale model?
  • How can you depict an object without the actual object?
  • Why are scale models useful?
  • Where are they used?
  • What did you build?
  • How did you build it?
  • What is its function(s)?
  • What other material would you use for the life-size version?


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: October 21, 2021

User Comments & Tips

Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
Find more at TeachEngineering.org