Maker Challenge Toxic Island:
Designing Devices to Deliver Goods

Quick Look

Grade Level: Middle school

Time Required: 1 hours 45 minutes (wild guess!)

Subject Areas: Measurement, Problem Solving

Overhead picture of prototype testing areas where students test their designs.
What delivery design will help your students reach the toxic island?
Copyright © 2019 Brad Parsons, School of Engineering and Technology, Central Michigan University

Maker Challenge Recap

A classic engineering challenge involves designing and building devices that can deliver necessary goods to “Toxic Island,” an island that has been quarantined by the World Health Organization due to a nasty outbreak of disease. Working within specific constraints, students design a device that must not touch the water or island, and must deliver supplies accurately and quickly. Students also must design their delivery systems by choosing from a limited number of materials. Students follow the engineering design process as they brainstorm and create designs, as well as test and iterate on their prototypes.

Maker Materials & Supplies

  • notebooks
  • stopwatch or timer
  • assortment of building supplies such as large sheets of cardboard, Styrofoam, aluminum foil, paper, saran wrap, plastic bottles, cardboard, construction paper, straws, bubble wrap, rubber bands, string, paper or binder clips, mouse traps, clothes and safety pin, popsicle sticks, spoons, cups, paper plates, and yard sticks
  • assortment of adhesives and cutting tools such as stapler, duct tape, white glue, cement glue, hot glue, tape, box cutter, and scissors
  • blue tarp, 3.7 m x 3.7 m (12 ft. x 12 ft.) to represent the ocean
  • plastic pail, 9 L (~5 gallons), to represent the island
  • box of “supplies” to be delivered to the island; this can be a toy or stuffed animal, or a box decorated like a supply delivery

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [] to print or download.


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(Show slide 1 of the Maker Challenge PowerPoint.) Today we will be practicing our critical thinking skills using the Engineering Design Process to solve a specific problem. Here is your task: the World Health Organization has quarantined an island nation due to an outbreak of a nasty virus. You must deliver necessary medical goods, food, (and chocolate!) to the Toxic Island’s ill inhabitants with the following constraints:

  1. You cannot touch the water or the island; it will contaminate any device immediately.
  2. The medicine is very rare and expensive, so accuracy is imperative!
  3. The people of the island need their supplies delivered quickly. Each team will have two minutes to deliver two loads of care packages consecutively (back-to-back).


Refer to the Engineering Design Process hub on TeachEngineering to guide your students through the challenge.

For design process documentation, utilize the Engineering Design Process Notebook.

Maker Time

  1. Review the hypothetical situation, the deliverables, available materials, constraints, and steps of the engineering design process with the class.
  2. Break the class up into teams.
  3. Give each team 10 to 15 minutes to discuss and plan their delivery system. Students should brainstorm ideas on paper and cite the dimensions and materials of their design. In to use a material, students must cite its use in their design in some way. Roam the room and ask the students to show off their plans and designs. (If you see a design that you know will fail, do not say anything.)
  4. Once the teams decide on one design, assess the design. If approved, students may go on to select their materials.
  5. Give the teams 15 to 20 minutes to build their prototypes.
  6. Allow students to test their designs with the blue tarp, pail, and deliverables. Give the teams two minutes to deliver their care packages consecutively (back-to-back). This will demonstrate that their design can consistently deliver the supplies.
  7. Give the teams an additional 10 to 15 minutes to iterate on their design.
  8. Allow students to retest their designs.
  9. Have each team present how their design works and discuss any challenges or pitfalls they discovered in the design process.  

Wrap Up

Have students take out a piece of paper and answer the following questions:

  1. How could you improve your device to be more accurate?
  2. How many times in a row can you successfully deliver the package?
  3. Are there ways you could improve the design to make it more accurate?


If you see a design that you know will fail, do not say anything! An important aspect of the engineering design process is learning from failure. If (or when) a device fails, have the students determine why it failed and then have them iterate on their design and retest it.


© 2019 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2018 Central Michigan University


Ron Ratkos; Matt Barco; William Gustin; David Proctor; Holly Ylitalo; Jennifer Bole; Christopher Cole; Andy Frisch; Caleb Wagar; Allison Abram; Will Falkner; Emily Miller; Brad Parsons; Alexandra Wagner; Beth Christiansen

Supporting Program

Research Experience for Teachers Program, Central Michigan University


This curriculum was based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under RET grant no. EEC 1542368— Research Experience for Teachers through Central Michigan University. 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.

Thanks to Dr. Kumar Yelamarthi, Project Coordinator, and Julie Cunningham, Co-Project Coordinator.

Last modified: September 1, 2020

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