Hands-on Activity: Design Packing to Safely Mail Raw Spaghetti

Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 15 minutes

Plus discussion time.

Expendable Cost/Group: US $4.00

$20 to $30 per class.

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Physical Science, Science and Technology

Summary

Students use their creative skills to determine a way to safely mail raw (dry, uncooked) spaghetti using only the provided materials. To test the packing designs, the spaghetti is mailed through the postal system and evaluated after delivery.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Photo shows a slivermailbox with the flag up.
Can you safely mail raw spaghetti?
copyright
Copyright © Microsoft Corporation, 1983-2001

Engineering Connection

Packaging engineers are responsible for creating packages for all types of products. They design cardboard boxes that are simply held together with glue and/or tape (or neither), boxes that have intricate folds to increase strength, and protective material used within the boxes. When designing packaging, they consider the size and shape of the object, whether it is fragile, and if it needs special temperature control.

Learning Objectives

  • Students learn about design and packaging techniques.
  • Students learn what happens to mail in the postal system.

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-ETS1-2. 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)

Do you agree with this alignment?

This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.

Alignment agreement:

At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Alignment agreement:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
  • Tools, materials, and skills are used to make things and carry out tasks. (Grades 3 - 5) 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?

  • Requirements for a design include such factors as the desired elements and features of a product or system or the limits that are placed on the design. (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?

  • When designing an object, it is important to be creative and consider all ideas. (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?

  • Identify and collect information about everyday problems that can be solved by technology, and generate ideas and requirements for solving a problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Test and evaluate the solutions for the design problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Processing systems convert natural materials into products. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Identify materials used to accomplish a design task based on a specific property, e.g., strength, hardness, and flexibility. (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

  • raw spaghetti (a handful per group)
    Photo shows jars of dry pasta, including spaghetti.
    copyright
    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation, 1983-2001
  • 8½ x 11-in envelopes, one per group
  • stamps
  • packaging materials, such as newspaper, tissue paper, packing foam, construction paper, bubble wrap
  • tape
  • pencils or pens

More Curriculum Like This

Food Packaging

Students learn how food packages are designed and made, including three main functions. Then, in the associated activity, students act as if they are packaging engineers by designing and creating their own food packages for particular food types.

Middle School Lesson
Digestive System

This lesson introduces students to the main parts of the digestive system and how they interact. In addition, students learn about some of the challenges astronauts face when eating in outer space. Engineers figure out how to deal with such challenges.

Elementary Lesson
Unlocking the Endocrine System

Students learn how the endocrine system works and compare it to the mail delivery system. Students discuss the importance of communication in human body systems and relate that to engineering and astronauts.

It's all In the Package

Students explore the concept of "reducing" solid waste and how it relates to product packaging and engineering advancements in packaging materials. They read about and evaluate the highly publicized packaging decisions of two major U.S. corporations. Then they evaluate different ways to package item...

Elementary Activity

Introduction/Motivation

Accidents happen. Sometimes your packages are dropped, and letters get bent. How can you protect a special delivery from such unfortunate mishaps?

Procedure

Background

Sending mail in the postal system is not always the safest. Mail can get bent or dropped, etc. It is up to the students to design safe packaging for the spaghetti.

Recommended Resources:

Postal history (explore all the links): https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/welcome.htm

Postal museum history of "moving the mail": http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2c_moving.html

USPS shipping suggestions, regulations and material descriptions: https://www.usps.com/ship/mail-shipping-services.htm?

Related activity: Designing a Package that Works

Instructions

Gather materials.

Talk with the students about what happens to the mail after it is placed in a post office mailbox. What might happen to a package as it travels through the mail?

  1. Divide the class into into small groups of students.
  2. Give each group a handful of raw spaghetti and an envelope.
  3. Using only the materials provided have teams package the spaghetti so that it is ready to be mailed.
  4. To test the packing approaches, have students mail the spaghetti back to the school. Make sure student teams include their names on the envelope (as the senders) so that when it comes back they will know which is which.
  5. Mail the envelopes.
  6. As a class, open the envelopes and examine the condition of the contents. Ask the Investigating Questions. Compare designs and results. Draw conclusions.

Assessment

Rubric for Performance Assessment (doc)

Rubric for Performance Assessment (pdf)

Investigating Questions

  • What packaging worked the best? Why?
  • What is important to keep in mind when packing the spaghetti?
  • What is the best way to pack it?
  • What happened to the spaghetti that did not make it through the mail safely?
  • How can this activity be applied to real-life situations?
  • How many students mailed their spaghetti safely?

Copyright

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

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: February 20, 2018

Comments

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