Hands-on Activity: Swiss Alps Emergency Sled Design

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

Two side-by-side photographs showing maps of Switzerland (left) and detailed Switzerland seismic activity (right).
Two maps of Switzerland show population centers compared with seismic activity in the country between 1975 and 2014.
copyright
Copyright © (left) 2018 Nations Online (public domain); (right) 2018 Swiss Seismological Service (public domain) http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/map/switzerland-administrative-map.htm http://www.seismo.ethz.ch/en/research-and-teaching/fields_of_research/seismicity-in-switzerland/

Summary

Students act as engineers to solve a hypothetical problem that has occurred in the Swiss Alps due to a seismic event. In research groups, students follow the steps of the engineering design process as teams compete to design and create small-size model sleds that can transport materials to people in distress who are living in the affected town. The sleds need to be able to carry various resources that the citizens need for survival as well as meet other design requirements. Students test their designs and make redesigns to improve their prototypes in order to achieve final working designs. Once the designs and final testing are complete, students create final technical reports.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Whenever products are being developed for human need, many factors need to be taken into consideration. In this activity, students, like engineers, are concerned with the sled’s safety as well as how it handles load, speed and distance. Because government regulations exist for the construction of any public transportation, students and engineers must understand these project constraints. Therefore, safety is a top priority in their design and construction. For situations in which citizens need rescue equipment, manufacturers must ensure top quality. Typically, appropriate testing measures for durability, speed and distance are regulated by watchdog groups and government entities.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Research scientific resources.
  • Sketch a sled design.
  • Create and build a prototyp slede.
  • Demonstrate tests for speed and distance.
  • Discuss safety issues.
  • Complete a technical report. 
  • Calculate speed of an object when given distance and time.

More Curriculum Like This

A Tale of Friction

High school students learn how engineers mathematically design roller coaster paths using the approach that a curved path can be approximated by a sequence of many short inclines. They apply basic calculus and the work-energy theorem for non-conservative forces to quantify the friction along a curve...

High School Lesson
GIS, Mathematics and Engineering Integration

Students explore using a GPS device and basic GIS skills. They gain an understanding of the concepts of latitude and longitude, the geocaching phenomenon, and how location and direction features work while sending and receiving data to a GIS such as Google Earth.

Viscous Fluids

tudents are introduced to the similarities and differences in the behaviors of elastic solids and viscous fluids. In addition, fluid material properties such as viscosity are introduced, along with the methods that engineers use to determine those physical properties.

High School Lesson
What Is Newton's First Law?

Students are introduced to the concepts of force, inertia and Newton's first law of motion: objects at rest stay at rest and objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Students learn the difference between speed, velocity and acceleration, and come to see that the cha...

Middle School Lesson

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?
  • Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Convert like measurement units within a given measurement system. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Use operations on fractions for this grade to solve problems involving information presented in line plots. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Students will develop abilities to apply the design process. (Grades K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Convert like measurement units within a given measurement system. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Display and interpret data in graphs (picture graphs, bar graphs, and line plots) to solve problems using numbers and operations for this grade, e.g., including U.S. customary units in fractions ½, ¼, 1/8, or decimals. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • An object's motion can be described by its speed and the direction in which it is moving. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

For the class to share (assuming class size of 25):

  • ramp (thick poster board; 0.5  x  0.75 m) and supporting material (suggested: books, chair, small table, to angle the ramp)
  • protractor (for setting up the ramp at a given angle)
  • various recycled materials such as
    • aluminum cans (10)
    • water bottles (10)
    • sandwich bags (50)
    • plastic cups (50)
  • aluminum foil (2.75 sq. m)
  • plastic wrap (10 sq. m)
  • Popsicle™ sticks (100)
  • cotton balls (100)
  • additional materials students may bring in (will vary)
  • rulers (10)
  • peanut packing (50) 
  • Appendix B: Description of Engineering Design Challenge
  • Appendix K: Materials List (one per class)

Introduction/Motivation

When thinking about the science of sledding, multiple factors need to be accounted for. One consideration is Newton’s first and second laws of motion: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force; the force (F) on an object is related to the mass (m) and acceleration (a) of the object, or F=ma. Without an outside force, a sled at rest stays at rest and will not accelerate. Another important factor is friction as it impacts the sled speed. Finally, gravity is another factor to consider when thinking about sledding. This attraction force is present while sledding and pulls the sled down the hill.

(Present the engineering challenge to the class.) The Swiss Seismological Service records 500 to 800 earthquakes per year. Recently, Switzerland was struck by a magnitude 6.0 earthquake. A road near the epicenter in the Swiss Alps was heavily damaged, cutting off a town’s supply line. Your engineering firm has been selected to help the Swiss design a sled that can bring resources and supplies to the town while the road is being repaired.

(Explain the requirements for the design challenge.) The government will select the prototype sled design that optimizes speed, can go the farthest distance, and is durable enough to carry resources across rugged terrain.

(Explain the sled testing.) Each sled will be tested on a ramp and collide into a barrier to see whether the sled can hold the material safely. The sleds will also go through three separate tests to determine safety, speed, and distance. The safety test results will use a three-point scale: One point will be awarded to the sleds that hold the given material through the speed test. Two points will be awarded to the sleds that can hold material throughout the speed and distance test. Finally, three points will be awarded to the sleds that can hold material throughout each test combined.

Since we will be designing our sled in the U.S., we need to convert our testing data (speed and distance) into the metric system for the Swiss government. You will work in teams of four for this engineering design project and each team member will be designated a specific role. Each group will produce a prototype and test its sled at the end of the week.

Vocabulary/Definitions

acceleration: Rate of change of velocity with respect to time.

convert: To change into, over, etc.

distance : A numerical measurement of how far apart objects are.

force: Any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of the object.

friction: Force that resists the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements that slide against each other.

mass: Property of a physical body.

prototype: An early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process.

seismic: Related to the study of earthquakes.

speed: The distance an object travels in a given amount of time.

velocity: Rate of change of an object’s position with respect to a give point of reference.

Procedure

Background

During the Swiss Alps emergency sled design chalenge, students learn about the following physics concepts: friction, Newton’s first and second laws of motion, and speed. They gain knowledge about how friction affects the motion of an object. The more friction that exists, the harder it is for the object to travel. The less friction that exists between the object and the surface it is sliding on, the easier it is for the object to travel. Friction is also affected by the mass of the object; on the same surface, a heavy object does not move as easily as a light object.

Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Without an outside force, a sled at rest stays at rest. Newton’s second law of motion explains the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration (F = ma). The more force that is added to an object, the larger the acceleration of the object. A more massive object is harder to accelerate.

Finally, the speed of the object is the distance the object travels divided by the time it takes that object to travel a specific distance (speed = distance x time). The shorter time it takes an object to cover a specific distance, the faster the speed of the object.

The force of gravity acts on the object moving down the hill; gravity pulls the sled down the hill after an initial push is made to get the sled moving. When the force due to gravity is greater than the force of friction, the sled moves down the hill. If friction is greater, the sled slows down and stops.

Before the Activity

Day 1: Pre-Assessment, Team Forming and Challenge Kickoff

  1. Administer the pre-activity assessment, Appendix A: Pre/Post-Quiz. Use the data for future instruction with speed/graphing.
  2. Present the engineerieng design challenge, as provided in the Introduction/Motivation section and Appendix B: Description of Engineering Design Challenge.
  3. Divide the class into groups of four students each. Assign team members to one of the four roles; project manager, logistics, statistician, and project mediator. 
    • Project Manager: Responsible for keeping the team on task and ensuring the group completes the daily engineering report (via Google docs). 
    • Logistics:  Responsible for obtaining supplies within the room. 
    • Statistician: Responsible for recording data in the engineering log and sharing the results with all team members. 
    • Project Mediator: Responsible for resolving any problems that arise. Expected to resolve problems via communication and collaboration among group members. (This job only for groups of four students.)
    • (optional) Groupings can be used as differentiation between student groups. 
  1. Give teams the following materials: recyclables, water bottle, foil, plastic wrap, cotton balls, Popsicle sticks, and plastic disposable cups. Indicate whether it is permissible for students to bring in additional materials for their sleds.
  2. Hand out and read to students the Appendix C: Student Performance Rubric, which provides a detailed layout for how groups receive full credit for their design challenge projects. 
  3. With the students, refer to the testing parameters so they can start to brainstorm how they want to set up the ramp, the distance the sled will travel, ramp angle, etc., which will be decided upon later, during Day 2. 
  4. Distribute copies of the Appendix G: Technical Report Template. Each day, teams fill out this report template to proivde:
    • Accomplished tasks 
    • Problems encountered during the engineering design process and how they were solved
    • Immediate future goals for the following day

Day 2: Speed Calculation and Testing Parameters

  1. Hand out the Appendix E: Speed Calculation Worksheet to test students' knowledge of speed. For low-level student/IEP groups, use the Appendix F: Differentiated Speed Calculation Worksheet, which gives them the speed calculation to use.
  2. Testing parameters: As a class, students decide the testing standards. When testing the sled speed, the group decides the ramp angle, ramp height, ramp length, and set distance the sled will travel. For the safety test, students decide how much cargo (packing peanuts) each sled is required to carry safely, where the collision occurs, and what to use as the barrier. (alternatives) Give students three different options for each testing parameter and have them choose/vote to come to an agreed-upon decision. OR, just have the teacher provide the testing parameters instead of having the class decide by voting.
  3. Distribute copies of Appendix G: Technical Report Template. Each day, teams fill out this report template that lists:
    • Accomplished tasks 
    • Problems encountered during engineering design process and how they were solved
    • Immediate future goals for the following day

Day 3: Brainstorm, Build and Interim Testing

  1. Provide students with the Appendix D: Engineering Prototype Brainstorm Design sheet.
    • Teams design three sled prototypes. They must include detailed labels on each design sketch to show exactly what materials go where on the sled.
    • As a group, students select their best brainstormed prototype design, which they move forward to construct. 
    • Students begin building their best design. Throughout the process of prototype building, make available the testing center for students to test their prototypes periodically. This enables them to continually reflect and redesign throughout the build process. Note that the testing parameters are what students agreed on during Day 2. 
  1. Distribute copies of the Appendix G: Technical Report Template. Each day, teams fill out this report template that lists:
    • Accomplished tasks
    • Problems encountered during engineering design process and how they were solved
    • Immediate future goals for the following day

Days 4-5: Final Testing, Data Analysis and Final Reports

  1. Teams continue building their designs. On the final build day, conduct final tests during which results/data are recorded. 
  2. Testing parameter setup: 
    • Ideal testing setup: For the ramp, use a thick poster board with glossy side up. Ideally, teams use recyclables that easily slide on the glossy surface.
    • Have students mark the distance where to place the barrier. Then have them record the distance achieved, daata needed for sled speed calculation.
    • Have students start a stopwatch/timer once the sled is released from the top of the ramp.
    • Students record the distance and time in the table and use this information to calculate the sled speed. 
    • Students record the following data in their Appendix H: Engineering Log:
      • Sled distance, time, and speed
      • Safety Chart, level 1 through 3.
  1. After testing, place all groups’ final average speeds on a chart/board so that all other groups can see the results.
    • Create a bar graph to display the data for the entire class.
      • Y-axis: Sled speed
      • X-axis: Group numbers/names
  1. Groups members complete the Appendix J: Final Technical Report, which requires the following information:
    • List all group member names.
    • Explain why your prototype is the best solution for the Swiss Alps emergency sled design challenge
    • Summarize the overall tasks accomplished.
    • If you were given the opportunity to redesign, what would you change in your prototype design, and why?

Attachments

Troubleshooting Tips

  • Regularly check on the progress of all groups.
  • Have one student on each team be responsible to report its progress/difficulties encountered to the instructor.

Investigating Questions

When you are sledding down a hill, is there such a thing as too much weight? (Possible answers: Yes, because you won’t be able to start moving if you’re too heavy, the static friction could be too large, and the sled might not go down the hill; etc.)

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Pre-Quiz: Have students each complete the Appendix A: Pre/Post-Quiz, which includes five different questions that require them to calculate speed given certain information. The quiz also asks them to plot three different points on a coordinate graph, and analyze a distance vs. time graph to determine which vehicle is moving faster. Review student's answers to see if additional explanation would be helpful on any of the topics.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Brainstorm: Have students use the Appendix D: Engineering Prototype Brainstorm Design, which gives them three different spaces to document different brainstorm ideas for sled prototypes. Engineers often take notes on their ideas because they might come in handy in later redesign stages.

Post-Activity Assessment

Post-Quiz: Have students re-take the Appendix A: Pre/Post-Quiz to assess what they learned from the activity.

Rubric: Use Appendix C: Student Performance Rubric to assess students in the following categories: data collection, group member accountability, technical reports, and design sketch.

Activity Extensions

A great way to enable students to experience the forces of gravity and friction for themselves is to have them slide down some snowy hills on tubes at a ski resort or local park. Ask students: Were some hills easier/harder to slide down? Did you go faster/slower on certain runs? Expect students to observe that the hills where no one slid down before were less slippery than well-worn runs. Why? The snow on the popular hills gets smoothed out, which results in less friction between the tube and the snow.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, provide teams with an already-created sled base. Perhaps cut off the top half of a plastic water bottle and have teams add materials to this base.
  • For higher grades,
    • Emphasize student collaboration, by pairing students into teams according to their class average and give them the opportunity to collaborate to present a simple friction/force experiment to the class for value added credit.
    • In addition to completing a final technical report, have students present their technical reports to their peers.

Additional Multimedia Support

Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at ETH Zurich is the federal agency for earthquakes. Its activities are integrated in the federal action plan for earthquake precaution. http://www.seismo.ethz.ch/sed/100/Snapshots/05/index_EN AND http://www.seismo.ethz.ch/knowledge/snapshots/index.html

Contributors

Emma Cipriani; Cynthia Dickman; Shane Sullivan

Copyright

© 2018 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2017 University of Dayton, Central State University and Wright State University

Supporting Program

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

Acknowledgements

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: December 4, 2018

Comments