Lesson: The Need for Shelter

Contributed by: Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

A shelter made of big leaves, plants and sticks in the forest.
A shelter made in the forest.
Copyright © http://www.moveto10.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/sh.jpg


As part of the continuing adventure scenario for this unit, students build shelters to protect themselves from the rain. After the shelters are built, the class performs durability and waterproof testing on the shelters.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Through this lesson and its activities, student teams complete the engineering design process used by practicing engineers including constructing and testing their designs. Testing is performed to verify that the proposed solution will solve the problem or challenge.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Build shelters to protect themselves from the rain
  • Perform durability and waterproof testing on the shelters

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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?
  • Creative thinking and economic and cultural influences shape technological development. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The design process is a purposeful method of planning practical solutions to problems. (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?
  • Identify evidence that suggests there is a fundamental building block of matter (Grade 6 ) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • There are different forms of energy, and those forms of energy can be changed from one form to another – but total energy is conserved (Grade 8 ) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above


Read the following part of the storyline with your students:

As you begin your journey into the exciting and mysterious Amazon rainforest, you hear chattering monkeys in the distance. You walk along for about 10 minutes and notice it is very warm and humid even though you are in plenty of shade. The pack you are carrying is starting to get a little bit heavier and you wish you were back in the hotel swimming pool. Then, out of nowhere, you hear a high-pitched scream behind you. At first you think it is a wild monkey or bird, but then you realize that it is only your friend Jennie, an environmental engineer.

"Eeeeek, who's wasting water!?" She yells as you notice everyone looking confused. But before anyone has time to answer, a warm rain begins to pour furiously from the sunny sky.

"It's raining, and our supplies are starting to get wet!" Robert, a civil engineer, cries out from the back of the group. You quickly realize you need a shelter that is easy to build and can be taken with you. What can you use? How will you built it? You have no umbrellas here!

Assume you have the following materials and develop a design for your shelter!

  • big waterproof tarp
  • huge Amazon leaves
  • rope
  • wood

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

None for this lesson.

Associated Activities

  • Home, Sweet Home! - Students use wax paper shaped as leaves and kite string to build shelters to protect them from the rain. The materials they use represent real-life materials such as those mentioned in the lesson (huge jungle plant leaves and rope).
  • Built to Last? Designing Experiments to Test Jungle Shelters - Student teams complete the engineering design process by constructing and testing their designs.


Worksheets: Have each student group complete the associated activity worksheets. Review their answers to gauge their depth of comprehension.

Reflection Discussion: Ask the students: How well did your shelter designs perform during the durability and waterproof tests? How might you improve your designs? Is there a better test method than the one you used? What might be some design flaws in your own homes? If so, how might you improve them?


© 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: April 11, 2018