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Hands-on Activity: Engineering Solutions for a Sticky Situation

Quick Look

Grade Level: 1 (K-2)

Time Required: 4 hours 30 minutes

(45-minute periods over 6 days)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $7.00

Group Size: 4

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Physical Science, Problem Solving

A brown military truck is stuck in deep mud.
How can we design a way to get heavy objects “unstuck,” such as this large truck?
copyright
Copyright © 2013 Waffen5 (CC BY-SA 3.0) Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24890877

Summary

Design a way to get a toy car unstuck from a sticky situation! In this activity, students build a road out of Jell-O that is sturdy enough to drive a toy car across without getting stuck. Using the full engineering design process, students research and choose available ingredients that will support their car. After research by the whole group, students investigate which ingredients will help make their Jell-O as strong as possible to protect their car from sinking in the “mud”. They test their prototype to see if the toy car will be able to drive across the Jell-O without getting stuck. The teams evaluate the process, improve the design, and recreate if needed. Students discuss their design, data, and final results in front of the class.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers face problem solving situations every day and use the engineering design process to solve their problems.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Keep pictorial and written records of investigations.
  • Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a simple problem and solve it through the development of a new or improved object.
  • Have a basic understanding of the engineering design process.
  • Sort objects based on whether they will sink or float.

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

K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool. (Grades K - 2)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Ask questions based on observations to find more information about the natural and/or designed world(s).

Alignment agreement:

Define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

Alignment agreement:

A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering.

Alignment agreement:

Asking questions, making observations, and gathering information are helpful in thinking about problems.

Alignment agreement:

Before beginning to design a solution, it is important to clearly understand the problem.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem. (Grades K - 2)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Develop a simple model based on evidence to represent a proposed object or tool.

Alignment agreement:

Analyze data from tests of an object or tool to determine if it works as intended.

Alignment agreement:

Designs can be conveyed through sketches, drawings, or physical models. These representations are useful in communicating ideas for a problem's solutions to other people.

Alignment agreement:

The shape and stability of structures of natural and designed objects are related to their function(s).

Alignment agreement:

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

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  • Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
    1. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions (e.g., gaining the floor in respectful ways, listening to others with care, speaking one at a time about the topics and texts under discussion).
    2. Build on others' talk in conversations by linking their comments to the remarks of others.
    3. Ask for clarification and further explanation as needed about the topics and texts under discussion.
    (Grade 2) More Details

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  • Sort objects by observable properties, such as size, shape, color, temperature (hot or cold), weight (heavy or light), texture, and whether objects sink or float. (Grade 1) More Details

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  • Keep records as appropriate, such as pictorial, written, or simple charts and graphs, of investigations conducted. (Grade 3) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

To share with the entire class:

  • small pumpkin (pie pumpkins work well)
  • small cantaloupe
  • large plastic container (that can hold at least 19 L (20 quarts))
  • assortment of objects for testing sink/float on Day 3. Examples: paper clips, Popsicle sticks, pennies, sticks, spoons, apples, plastic spoons, etc.
  • box of gelatin packs (containing 36 packets), available online
  • 2.3 kg (5 lb) sand (aquarium sand works well), available online
  • 2.3 kg (5 lb) pebbles (aquarium gravel works well), available online
  • 2.3 kg (5 lb) marbles (clear glass 13 mm (0.5-in) diameter marbles)
  • progressive measuring cups (1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 2/3 cup, 3/4 cup and 1 cup)
  • access to a refrigerator (to make Jell-O)
  • access to hot and cold water (to make Jell-O and for the whole group sink/float activity)
  • laptop and screen to show class a PowerPoint presentation and video
  • pictures of a set of keys, a rock, a beach ball, a car and a pumpkin (for the pre/post-quiz)
  • Book “Sheep in a Jeep” by Nancy Shaw (alternative: read along video on YouTube)

Each student needs:

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/uof-2498-engineering-solutions-sticky-situation-design] to print or download.

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Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should know how to keep a lab notebook by including the date, observations, and pictures, if necessary, in each entry.

Students should have an understanding of whether an object sinks or floats because of density.

Introduction/Motivation

Have you ever seen objects float or sink in the water? Why do you think objects float? Why do you think objects sink? (Listen to student answers for these questions.)

For the next six days we will be learning about what makes objects sink or float in water. First, I need to understand what you know so we are going to take a pretest. (Pass out pretest papers and display a picture of each object for the class to see.)

Have you ever seen a car or truck stuck in the mud? Why do you think happens if a car or truck tries to drive forward when they are stuck? (If students have not seen this before, show a picture to the class, such as the image at the header of this activity. Or, refer to the book in below.)

Read the book “Sheep in a Jeep” and discuss the jeep being stuck in the mud. Why do you think the jeep is stuck in the mud? How does being stuck relate to sinking or floating?

For the next six days, you are going to build a Jell-O road that will allow a jeep to travel across without getting stuck.

Activity Overview

Day 1: Conduct the Pre/Post-Quiz, and present the Sink vs. Float PowerPoint Presentation. Show students video “Sink or Float” by SciShow Kids (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQuW8G2QV_Q).

Day 2: Prepare for a whole group lesson with pumpkins/cantaloupes (see Figure 1).

Day 3: Students test objects for sink/float and record their observations in their journal, conduct Pre/Post-Quiz again.

Day 4: Read the book, introduce the topic, state the problem, and research.

Day 5: (morning) teams create designs, teams build their design, (afternoon) after 4 hours have teams test design, ask follow up questions, and review if the design solved the problem.

Day 6: Recap, present, and redesign if time allows.

An image of students looking over the sink/float experiment with a pumpkin and a cantaloupe.
Figure 1. Students make predictions, observe, and discuss the outcomes of a sink/float experiment with a pumpkin and a cantaloupe.
copyright
Copyright © Rebecca Prevatt, University of Florida MRET

Procedure

Background

Objects are made of molecules which can be packed tightly together or spread out. The way these molecules are packed affect the density of the object. An object that has its molecules tightly packed in will be denser than objects whose molecules are spread out.

Density is important because it determine if an object will sink or float. Objects that are denser than water will sink and those object that are less dense than water will float.

The purpose of this activity is for students understand why objects sink or float in water. Students learn what causes objects to sink or float and students will learn about density. If an object is denser than water, it sinks; if an object is less dense than water, it floats. This activity provides students with hands-on activities to understand the difference between objects that sink or float.

Before Day 1

  1. Make copies of the Pre/Post-Quiz; cut out the individual quizzes so each student has a copy.
  2. Prepare to show the Sink vs. Float PowerPoint Presentation; check that you can display and hear the video that is linked in the PowerPoint.

With the Students Day 1

  1. Introduce students to the activity with the Introduction/Motivation section.
  2. Distribute the Pre/Post-Quiz and give students 5-10 minutes to circle their answers.
  3. Collect the quizzes and ask students to take out their lab notebooks.
  4. Open the Sink vs. Float PowerPoint Presentation and pair students up.
  5. Slide 1: Have students talk about what it means if something floats. Encourage them to respectfully listen to their partners and record their ideas.
  6. Slide 2: Have students talk about what it means if something sinks. Encourage them to respectfully listen to their partners and record their ideas.
  7. Slide 3: Show students video “Sink or Float” by SciShow Kids (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQuW8G2QV_Q). Students will see the host go through an experiment that explores whether different objects sink or float. They are also introduced to the idea of density.
  8. Slide 4: Let students share their initial ideas and what they learned from the video. Write the class definition on the board for students to write in their lab notebooks.
  9. Slide 5: Let students share their initial ideas and what they learned from the video. Write the class definition on the board for students to write in their lab notebooks.
  10. Slide 6: Use the timer to give students one minute to share ideas of objects that float. Encourage them to record ideas in their lab notebooks.
  11. Slide 7: Use the timer to give students one minute to share ideas of objects that sink. Encourage them to record ideas in their lab notebooks.

Before Day 2

  1. Gather pumpkin, cantaloupe, and large plastic bin. Fill the plastic bin ¾ full with water.
  2. Draw a table on the board to organize students’ predictions and experiment outcomes. Label the rows “pumpkin” and cantaloupe” and label the columns “Sink” and “Float.”

With the Students Day 2

  1. As a class, review the definitions of float and sink from Day 1.
  2. Tell students: Yesterday in the video, we saw an experiment about objects that float and sink. Today, we will do our own experiment!
  3. Show students the pumpkin and the cantaloupe. In small groups, have the students discuss and predict whether each object will sink or float. Once they have agreed unanimously, have them share as a class and write the predictions on the board. 
  4. Carefully drop each fruit into the water. Let students see if the objects sink or float and record the outcomes on the board.
  5. Discuss as a class why the objects floated or sank. Have students record their thoughts in their lab notebooks.
  6. (Optional) Tell students to look about their homes and, with permission, bring in small objects that they think will sink or float.

Before Day 3

  • Ensure the large plastic bin is ¾ full of water.
  • Gather a selection of objects for students to test.
  • Make copies of the Pre/Post-Quiz.

With the Students Day 3

  1. Tell students: Now it’s your turn to run the experiment! You’ll make predictions and record your ideas and findings about which objects sink or float.
  2. Have students write down which objects they are testing in their lab notebooks. Encourage them to create a chart to organize their ideas.
  3. Before testing their objects, have students make a prediction about whether or not the object will sink or float.
  4. Monitor students as they drop their objects into the water; have them record their findings in their lab notebooks. Check that each student has the chance to drop an object into the water.
  5. After students have finished testing their objects, bring the class together to discuss if there were any findings that were surprising.
  6. Distribute the Pre/Post-Quiz and give students 5-10 minutes to circle their answers.

Before Day 4

  1. Make Jell-O (1 hour before the start of activity) in a container to show the jeep getting stuck in the Jell-O.
  2. Gather materials: “Sheep in a Jeep” book, lab notebooks, and pens.

With the Students Day 4

  1. Gather students in a central area to read “Sheep in a Jeep.” Before reading to the students, ask introduction questions such as: Have you ever seen a car or truck stuck in the mud? Why do you think that happens?
  2. While reading, answer questions as needed. Ask the students questions such as: Why do you think the jeep is stuck in the mud? How does being stuck relate to sinking or floating?
  3. After reading, review sink, float, and density vocabulary words with students.
  4. Introduce the problem:

Say: “Many vehicles get stuck in the mud.” Show the class the container with the jeep getting stuck in the Jell-O. Ask: Is there something wrong with this situation? Is it the road or the jeep? How do you know? Say: “Think about how you can solve this problem.”

  1. Explain the task: “Students will work in teams to create a Jell-O road by adding ingredients of their choice (sand, gravel, or pebbles) and the road will need to allow the toy jeep to travel across without getting stuck.”
  2. As a whole group, research different types of roads (dirt and gravel) and what happens to vehicles traveling on them during a heavy rainfall. Have students record their research in lab notebooks.

Before Day 5

  1. Make copies of the Materials Worksheet for materials.
  2. Make 8 cups of Jell-O. Make sure to time the mixture correctly so it does not sit longer than an hour before you use it in the activity or you can make it while the teams are designing their roads.
  3. Gather materials for the activity: premade Jell-O, toy jeeps, containers with lids, measuring cups, marbles, sand, pebbles, lab notebooks, pens.

With the Students Day 5 (AM)

  1. Divide the class into teams of 4 students.
  2. Give each student a Materials Worksheet and have students glue it in their lab notebooks.
  3. Have the teams create a design for their road and fill out the materials chart.
  4. Let the teams build the design using the materials they chose (sand, gravel, pebbles) in their containers. (see Figure 2)
  5. After each team has built their road, pour 1 cup of Jell-O in each container.
  6. Explain that you only let your Jell-O sit for 1 hour before and the jeep got stuck. Explain the directions say to wait 4 hours to let the Jell-O harden. As a class, decide on a time frame for when they want to test their designs.
  7. Put containers in refrigerator.

An image of plastic containers, marbles, toy trucks, gelatin packets, sand, pebbles and measuring cups sit on a table.
Figure 2. A variety of materials will help us test our design.
copyright
Copyright © Rebecca Prevatt, University of Florida MRET

With the Students Day 5 (PM)

  1. After 4 hours, (or as determined based on student level) have students test their design.
  2. Have students record their observations in their lab notebooks.
  3. Ask the Investigating Questions:
    • “Did the jeep get stuck? Why or why not?”
    • “What was different about your road from my road?”
    • “Did your team’s design solve the problem? Why or why not?”

With the Students Day 6

  1. Have students recap what happened with their prototype.
  2. Have students discuss what they would do differently.
  3. Have each team present what they did and if it solved the problem.

~Ask each team: “Do you need to redesign and build your road again? What would you do differently? What would you keep the same?”

  1. If time allows, let teams redesign their roads and tell students that engineers redesign things a lot when they solve problems.

An image of groups working together to build their roads using the materials.
Groups working together to build their roads using the materials. Team members record what they use in their lab notebooks.
copyright
Copyright © Rebecca Prevatt, University of Florida MRET

An image of team members record what they use in their lab notebooks.
Team members record what they use in their lab notebooks.
copyright
Copyright © Rebecca Prevatt, University of Florida MRET

Vocabulary/Definitions

density: The degree of compactness of a substance.

float: To rest or move on or near the surface of a liquid without sinking

molecule: A group of atoms bonded together.

sink: To go down below the surface of something, especially of a liquid; become submerged.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Class Discussions: Ask the following Introduction questions:

  • Have you ever seen a car or truck stuck in the mud? Why do you think that happens?

Pre-Quiz: Conduct the Pre/Post-Quiz to gauge student understanding.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Observations/Evaluation: Have students enter observations from each day; collect the lab notebooks to evaluate student understanding. (Students may write or draw their observations.)

Post-Activity Assessment

Post-Quiz: Have students re-take the Pre/Post-Quiz.

Team Presentations: Have each team present what they did and if it solved the problem. Ask each team “Do you need to redesign and build your road again? What would you do differently? What would you keep the same?”

Investigating Questions

  • “Did the jeep get stuck? Why or why not?” (Example answer: Yes, the jeep got stuck because the jeep is denser than the Jell-O and it sank.)
  • “What was different about your road from my road?” (Example answer: My road used more pebbles than your road.)
  • “Did your team’s design solve the problem? Why or why not?” (Example answer: Yes, the jeep didn’t sink because of all the pebbles in our road.”

Safety Issues

Keep hot water away from students when making the Jell-O.

Remind students that marbles, rocks and sand should not go in their mouths.

Activity Extensions

Students can choose other items to use to build their road or you can have them gather resources from around the school. Teams can research roads in the area that many vehicles do get stuck and write a letter to the county district on ways to improve the road.

Activity Scaling

For lower grades:

  • The teacher can do this activity as a whole group instead of in teams.
  • The teacher can have items already available for students to choose from for the sink/float activities instead of students finding them on their own.

For higher grades:

  • Students can predict whether they think their jeep will sink or float.
  • Students can measure the tires sinking in the Jell-O before and after.
  • Students can research on their own different types of roads and chose other materials to make their road out of.
  • Students can do this lesson independently instead of in teams.
  • Students can research how a ship, boat, yacht, canoe, etc. floats in water.
  • Teachers can take the lesson further by teaching about buoyancy.

Additional Multimedia Support

Book titled “Sheep in a Jeep” by Nancy E Shaw.

References

Shaw, Nancy, and Margot Apple. Sheep in a Jeep. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

Copyright

© 2020 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2018 University of Florida

Contributors

Rebekah Prevatt

Supporting Program

Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers of Elementary Grades, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, University of Florida

Acknowledgements

This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under RET grant no. EEC 1711543— Engineering for Biology: Multidisciplinary Research Experiences for Teachers in Elementary Grades (MRET) through the College of Engineering at the University of Florida. 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: September 30, 2020

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