Lesson Attack of the Raging River

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5

Time Required: 15 minutes

Lesson Dependency:

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

A photograph shows a muddy river, the Amazon River, with a densely shrubby shoreline.
Copyright © 2007 Chico75, Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amazon_river.JPG


Through this lesson and its associated activities, students discover the relationship between an object's mass and the amount of space it takes up (its volume) as they create small boats that are able to float loads—which helps them get out of the jungle as part of the ongoing (hypothetical) storyline of the Lost in the Amazon unit. Students also learn about the concepts of displacement and density.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

This lesson and its activities provides an opportunity for student teams to complete the engineering design process used by practicing engineers including designing, constructing and testing their boat creations. See the related unit's Engineering Connection for further explanation.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Discover the relationship between an object's mass and the amount of space it takes up (its volume).
  • Create small boats that are able to float different loads.
  • Understand the concepts of displacement and density.

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-ETS1-1. 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)

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This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

  • Explain how solutions to problems are shaped by economic, political, and cultural forces. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Apply the technology and engineering design process. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Use tools to gather, view, analyze, and report results for scientific investigations about the relationships among mass, weight, volume, and density (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Use information and communication technology tools to gather information from credible sources, analyze findings, and draw conclusions to create and justify an evidence-based scientific explanation (Grade 7) More Details

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  • 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) More Details

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(Continue the unit storyline by reading to the class the following information.)

You are almost to your destination, your body is feeling more and more tired and you don't know if you can walk another step. Suddenly, you hear Beth yell from the front, "Hey, we have a problem! I think we have strayed slightly from the original route. The GPS unit says our location is 3°S and 60.2°W. It looks like we are going to have to cross a river in order to get to Manaus."

You look at the map and realize Beth is right. How will you cross the river? Will your supplies be enough to get everyone across safely? Using the hands-on design activities Anchors Away and Taking the Boat to Manaus students can practice their survival plan by crafting boats using various materials to escape to safety!

Imagine you have the following supplies:

  • wood
  • rope
  • waterproof tarp
  • various tools from the plane

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

Refer to the Vocabulary/Definitions section.

Associated Activities

Lesson Closure

In a concluding class discussion, ask students: How did you get your clay to float in the water? Were you surprised at how little or how much your clay boats and bowls could hold? How might you make your designs hold even more mass and still float?


density: The ratio of mass to volume. For example, a ping-pong ball and golf ball have similar volume, but a golf ball has more mass and is thus more dense.

displacement: The amount of fluid that moves up in a container when an object is placed in the container.

mass: The amount of matter in an object. Mass does not change when an object is physically changed.

property: A characteristic or trait of a material such as color, texture and density.

surface area: The area of the outside surface of an object. This can change as the object changes shape.

volume: The amount of space an object takes up.


Worksheet: Have each student group complete the associated activity worksheet.


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© 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 National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 27, 2019

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