Hands-on Activity: Home, Sweet Home!

Contributed by: Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

A cartoon image of a "Home Sweet Home" sign.
Students create and test shelters
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Student groups use kite string and wax paper shaped as leaves to build shelters to protect them from the rain. Then they test the shelters for durability and water resistance.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Through this lesson and activity, student teams complete the engineering design process used by practicing engineers including constructing and testing their designs. When faced with a challenge, engineers evaluate various potential solutions and select one that best meets the criteria for success.They build and test it, revising it until an acceptable solution is achieved.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the characteristics, and make qualitative observations, of plants found in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Design and build a model shelter from "local" materials.

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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.

  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Each plant or animal has different structures or behaviors that serve different functions (Grade 2) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • All living things share similar characteristics, but they also have differences that can be described and classified (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Create and evaluate models of plant and/or animal systems or parts (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • 1 sheet of wax paper, approximately 12-in x 12-in
  • Amazon Plant Leaves Template
  • kite string, 2 feet
  • 45+ hole punch reinforcers (1 sheet) or masking tape cut into small pieces approx. ¼" x ¼"
  • 5 popsicle sticks
  • 1 Dixie Cup or small bowl
  • Student Guide Worksheet

Each student needs:

  • 1 cake tray
  • 1 clay or sticky putty packet


Refer to the storyline provided in the Introduction/Motivation section of the associated lesson 3.


  • Give groups a time limit for setup in each step of testing their shelters.
  • Collect any leftover wax paper, which limite students to use only the leaves they cut out.



Worksheets: Have student groups complete and hand-in activity worksheets.

Activity Extensions

Prior to building the shelters, have students cut out some of the leaves to scale (using green butcher paper or similar) to help them understand how large some of these leaves really are. You might decorate your classroom in an Amazon rainforest theme, or even have the class construct a life-sized shelter using large dowel rods, string, tape and the paper cut-outs. Students remember the variety of plants better if they see how large the plant leaves can grow.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines


Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 10, 2017