Hands-on Activity: Sled Hockey Design Challenge

Contributed by: Collaborative RET Program, Central State University, University of Dayton, and Wright State University in Ohio

Quick Look

Grade Level: 8 (7-9)

Time Required: 5 hours 45 minutes

(seven 50-minute class periods)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $7.00

Group Size: 4

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Computer Science, Geometry, Physical Science

Sled hockey player on sled using hockey sticks to maneuver on the ice towards the puck.
A materials engineering challenge: build a prototype stick for a sled hockey player!
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sledge_hockey#/media/File:Sledge_hockey_player.jpg


Students are tasked with designing a special type of hockey stick for a sled hockey team—a sport designed for individuals with physical disabilities to play ice hockey. Using the engineering design process, students act as material engineers to create durable hockey sticks using a variety of materials. The stick designs will contain different interior structures that can hold up during flexure (or bending) tests. Following flexure testing, the students can use their results to iterate upon their design and create a second stick.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

A materials engineer researches, designs, and builds new materials used to in a variety of consumer and industrial products. Along with analyzing the structure of a particular material, these engineers develop different designs based on the properties of a material. Materials engineers are employed in a wide range of industries: they may develop prosthetics for medical companies while closely following safety guidelines; design composite structures for use in aerospace; invent clothing that is lighter, warmer, and more breathable for athletes; or create sustainable materials that are eventually used in architecture. This activity challenges students to take on the role of a materials engineer in order to design, test, and redesign a sled hockey stick based on the materials and structures that can withstand the most weight. 

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Apply geometric methods to solve design problems.
  • Test tension and flexure on designed materials.
  • Identify forces and their role in testing.
  • Implement the engineering design process throughout this activity.

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.

  • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

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  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

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    This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs.

    Alignment agreement:

    Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.

    Alignment agreement:

    The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.

    Alignment agreement:

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8 ) More Details

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    This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
    Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
    Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

    Alignment agreement:

    The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

    Alignment agreement:

    All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

    Alignment agreement:

    The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

    Alignment agreement:

  • Apply geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios). (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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

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

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. (Grades K - 12 ) More Details

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  • Students will develop abilities to apply the design process. (Grades K - 12 ) More Details

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  • Apply geometric methods to solve design problems, e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Represent data on two quantitative variables on a scatter plot, and describe how the variables are related. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Types of forces (gravity, friction, normal, tension) (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Using graphs (average velocity, instantaneous velocity, acceleration, displacement, change in velocity) (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

To share with the entire class:

  • set of weights; 0.5 kg to 5 kg (~1 lb to ~10 lb) increasing in 0.5-lb increments. See Troubleshooting Tips for notes on weights.

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/uod-2267-sled-hockey-design-challenge-materials-engineering] to print or download.

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High School Lesson


What comes to mind when you think of a materials engineer? (Allow students to think specifically about the word “materials” and welcome any suggestions.) Materials engineering is a field that studies, discovers, and designs the properties of structures of existing materials in order to create new materials. One example of what a materials engineer might do is assist an architecture firm that with designs for an environmentally-friendly building. The firm may hire an engineer to develop a sustainable insulation out of previous iterations of insulation by adding to the material. In aerospace engineering, materials engineers are often tasked with designing components for use in aircraft that are lighter, stronger, and can carry heavier loads. Materials engineering, however, is not just limited to large industries. Think about what athletes wear or use for equipment. Uniforms made today are far lighter, more breathable, and more flexible that what was available thirty or forty years ago, and part of this evolution is due to advances in textiles, plastics, and carbon-based materials that were all developed by an engineer. In a way, engineering has also helped democratize sports by introducing designs that can help individuals with physical disabilities compete. In this activity, we are going to explore the engineering behind one such innovation used in sled hockey: the sled hockey stick!

Sled hockey was invented when individuals wanted to continue to play hockey despite their physical limitations. Along with designing a sled with skate blades instead of the usual rails, they developed “sticks” that were made of bicycle handles. As the sport grew, players wanted their sticks to mimic what ice hockey sticks look like. However, these sticks needed to be exceptionally strong. Not only are the sticks used to pass the puck, they are also used to propel a player on the ice— a motion that uses a tremendous amount of upper-body strength.

Now, to discuss your task: this class will help a new sports team develop its equipment. This sled hockey team will need new sticks that can withstand lots of game-to-game wear and tear. Sled hockey sticks are 52 cm (20.5 in) long, 1.9 cm (0.75 in) wide, and 3.2 cm (1.25 inches) tall. Part of your design challenge is to use polygons in the stick to create more support. Along with your design, and materials that include tickets, masking tape, poster board, printer paper, straws, pipe cleaners, foam board, and cardboard, you will construct a replica of a hockey stick. To test its strength, you will put the stick through flexure (bending) testing.



How do you design a sled hockey stick? For starters, student engineers should be mindful of the forces exerted on a stick during play. Sled hockey is as intense a sport as ice hockey! Materials engineers may evaluate a range of different materials such as wood and composite carbon fiber for their strength and ability to flex. During flexure testing, they add weight to the middle of the hockey stick while keeping the ends stable and then measure the stick’s flexibility. They add more and more weight to determine the maximum amount of force a stick can withstand before breaking.

Another key concept is force, specifically the push or pull on an object. In mathematical terms, force is related to product of acceleration (usually by gravity, g=9.8 m/s2) and the mass of the object using the equation F=ma. F is the force in Newtons (N), m is the mass in kilograms (kg), and a is the acceleration in meters per second squared (m/s2) An overview of normal and tension forces is provided in the Forces, Scatterplots, and Polygons Worksheet.

In this activity, students work through the engineering design process as outlined in the Engineering Design Process Handout, which guides them through the steps to create a prototype hockey stick.

Before the Activity

With the Students

Day 1

  1. Introduce the project to the students.
    1. The school wants to create a hockey stick for a new sled team and this class has been asked to help with the project. Students will create one prototype sled hockey stick. The sticks should be 52 cm (20.5 in) long, 1.9 cm (0.75 in) wide, and 3.2 cm (1.25 inches) tall. By assessing the flexural distance during the testing procedure, you will then redesign and construct a new stick that adjusts any failures that were present in the initial testing.
    2. Show the video (2:34 minute long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gsy9Som_xs
    3. Show the video (4:16 minute long): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J57TP5TrNwg
  2. Instruct students to complete the Pre/Post-Quiz.
  3. Instruct students to complete “Day 1” questions in the Student Log Book.
  4. Look over student answers. Highlight any questions that may have been particularly difficult for the group as a whole.

Day 2

  1. Split the class into groups (these groups can be chosen by the students or assigned). There should be about four students in each group. 
  2. Review the Forces, Scatterplots, and Polygons Worksheet as a class.  
    1. A normal force exists between two solid objects when their surfaces are pressed together due to other forces acting on one or both sides. 
    2. If an object is sitting on a table or level surface, then the normal force is opposite and equal of the weight of the object. 
    3. A tension force occurs using, for example, a robe that pulls another object. Picture an elevator hanging from a wires that pull it up and down inside an elevator shaft. To find the tension force, you use the formula F=mg, where m is the mass and g is the gravity constant of 9.8 m/s². 
    4. As the students plot points in the worksheet, ask them to identify the x-axis and the y-axis. After the students plot the points on the two graphs, ask the students what the lines represent after connecting the ordered pairs. 
    5. Ask the students to draw each polygon next to its name on the worksheet. What characteristics make the polygons different? Have the students create a repeating pattern of the shapes, like in the Forces, Scatterplot, and Polygons Worksheet Answer Key. How can a repeating pattern of shapes help determine the weight it can hold?
  1. In their groups, the students should research more about their project and record their research in the “Day 2” section of the Student Log Book. Have students consider the following questions: What does a materials engineer do? Can you find any examples of specific jobs that this type of engineer might do? What kind of materials do manufacturers use for a sled hockey? What kind of testing do engineers use when designing hockey sticks? Are there any factors you may need to remember when designing your stick? In regard to structures, are there any advantages or disadvantages of some polygons used? Distribute a copy of the Engineering Design Process Rubric to each student group. Have students perform self-assessment throughout the project using this rubric. 
  2. Instruct students to complete “Day 2” questions in the Student Log Book

Day 3

  1. Review the engineering design process, particularly steps 1 through 3. Pass out copies of the Engineering Design Process Handout
  2. In their groups, students will begin using their research and materials to begin designing their sled hockey stick. 
  3. After they have brainstormed, instruct the students to choose the best solution. 
    1. Remind them they are on step 4 of the engineering design process: selecting the best possible solution.
  4. The students will begin construction of their hockey stick. During this time, encourage the students to experiment with all of the available materials. Remind them that dimensions (or constraints) are an important part of designing the stick.
  5. Before asking the students to complete log book questions, present this video (0:56 minute long) to them so that they have a sense of what the testing procedure will look like. 
  6. Instruct students to complete “Day 3” questions in the Student Log Book. Ask the students to discuss the questions as a group and then prepare to share their answers with the class. 

Day 4

  1. Instruct the students to continue to work on their sled hockey stick design. As the students work, circulate the room to check on their progress. Ensure that students are using their design and materials to create their hockey stick. Probing questions for each group may include:
    1. Why did you choose this material over another material? 
    2. Did you include a polygon inside the stick? Why or why not? 
    3. Is the brainstorming part of the design process helpful? What if you didn’t discuss possible solutions with your group?
  2. Once students complete their designs, instruct them to being testing. Provide each group with copies of the Testing Procedures Sheet
    1. Create a chart in the lab book following the example on the Testing Procedures Sheet
    2. Wrap one pipe cleaner around the stick, 4 cm (1.5 in) from the end. 
    3. Place the stick on a table and tape about 10 cm (4 in) of the stick’s length down with duct tape.
    4. Have one student from the group hold a meter stick from the ground to the end of the stick, near the pipe cleaner. Note the centimeter mark at the bottom of the stick. 
    5. Direct the students to add one weight to the stick using the pipe cleaner. Did the stick’s height (according to the meter stick) change in any way? Have students document the weight and the change in flexure. If there is no change, put 0 in the right column. 
    6. Continue to add weight and document changes until the stick breaks.  
    7. Students should take pictures to document and validate progress during testing.
    8. Once the students begin testing, remind them that they are on step 6 of the engineering design process.
  3. Students should complete “Day 4” questions in the Student Log Book.
  4. Discuss with the students where the normal and tension forces occur during testing.
    1. Normal force occurs on the end of the stick that is taped to the table.
    2. Tension force occurs on the end of the stick holding the weights. 

Day 5

  1. If there are groups that still need to test, instruct them to finish testing and collecting data.
  2. Explain to the students that they are currently on step 7 of the engineering design process. Ask the students what they think about the importance of this step. (Possible answers include: organizing ideas and results so they can be easily evaluated; sharing results to get feedback from others, etc.)
  3. Instruct the students to plot their data on a piece of graph paper. 
    1. Remind the students to label the axes: x-axis is weight and y-axis is deformation. 
  4. Direct the groups to discuss what this data may represent. 
    1. Where did your stick break?
    2. Did it withstand a lot of weight? Why or why not?
    3. What would make their design better?
  5. Ask groups to present their graphs. They should share what they think went well for them and what they should change during the step of redesign. 
  6. Students should complete “Day 5” questions in the Student Log Book

Day 6

  1. With their collection of data as well as ideas from other groups, the students will redesign their sticks. 
    1. Have the students brainstorm ideas before using the materials. 
    2. What is your approach for this redesign in the 8th step of the engineering design process?
    3. Are there materials or ideas you will keep for your second design? Which materials will you get rid of? 

Day 7

  1. Instruct students to complete their redesign. 
  2.  Have the groups present on their iterations. 
    1. What materials were different? 
    2. What polygon structure did you choose? Is it different than your initial design? Why or why not? 
  3. Pass out the Pre/Post-Quiz and have students complete it. 
  4. When done with the test, direct students to complete the “Final Day” questions in the Student Log Book.

Prototype sled hockey stick taped 10 centimeters onto a table with weights connected 4 centimeters from the opposite end of the stick.
A sled hockey stick undergoes flexure testing in the classroom.
Copyright © 2018 Caroline Boeckman, Collaborative RET Program, Central State University, University of Dayton, and Wright State University in Ohio


flexure test: A way to examine the behavior of a slender structure that is subjected to an external load; also known in engineering as bending of a particular object.

force: In physics, any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object.

materials engineering: The design and discovery of new materials that emphasizes how processing influences an object’s structure as well as its properties and performance.

normal force: In mechanics, a component of a force that is perpendicular to the surface that an object contacts; for example, the surface of a table that prevents an object lay on top of it from falling.

sled hockey: Hockey game adapted for those with physical disabilities; participants use an ice sled and two sled hockey sticks to maneuver around the rink.

tension force: In physics, the act of pulling by means of a string, cable, or chain and the force exerted on such an object as it is being pulled.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Pre-Quiz: In advance of starting this activity, have students complete the Pre/Post-Quiz. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the pre-requisite concepts.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Log Book: Students should complete the Student Log Book. The log book questions will be a way for the students to reflect on what they did that day for the activity and how it will help them in the process. Have students perform self-assessment using the Engineering Design Process Rubric.

Post-Activity Assessment

Post-Quiz: At activity end, re-administer the Pre/Post-Quiz. Compare students’ pre and post scores to determine their knowledge gains from conducting the activity.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • If weights are not readily available for this activity, create your own with any half-kilogram amount of material (such as sand) and fill a Ziploc bag. Make sure to label the weight of each bag.  
  • If the weight set you are using does not increase by half-kilogram (or even kilogram) increments, have the students keep the weight column of their table blank until they test. As the put on the weights, fill in the rows according to the amount of weight added to the stick test.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, remove the polygon structure aspect from the activity. Simplify testing by placing the stick on a desk and stacking textbooks on the stick, one at a time, to observe the strength of the materials.  
  • For higher grades, the students could use the force formula to find how much force the stick can withstand. Students could also create a stick that has the paddle at the end, like an actual sled hockey stick.

Additional Multimedia Support

Gatorade – Sledge Hockey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gsy9Som_xs

Hockey Stick Flex and Breaking Point Test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J57TP5TrNwg

Cantilever test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE4ts5wm7zE


Caroline Boeckman; Amy Lamb; Robert Winkler


© 2018 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2016 Central State University, University of Dayton, and Wright State University in Ohio

Supporting Program

Collaborative RET Program, Central State University, University of Dayton, and Wright State University in Ohio


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. EEC 1405869—a collaborative Research Experience for Teachers Program titled, “Inspiring Next Generation High-Skilled Workforce in Advanced Manufacturing and Materials,” at the University of Dayton, Central State University, and Wright State University in Ohio. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Last modified: March 5, 2019


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