Informal Learning Activity Make an Alarm! (en español)

Quick Look

Grade Level: Elementary school

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost: US $1.00

Group Size: 3

Subject Areas: Physical Science, Science and Technology

Bolded words are vocabulary and concepts to highlight with students during the activity.

What is the purpose of a car alarm? (Listen to students' ideas for a few minutes.) A car alarm helps prevent thieves from stealing a car by triggering a loud noise and drawing attention to the scene. How would you protect something that is valuable to you from being stolen if you were unable to watch it at all times? Today, you act as engineers to solve this problem. Your design challenge is to think of creative ways to protect your desk, pencils or even classroom door. Can you create a set of traps that alert you if someone tries to steal something in your classroom? Working with two other students, your goal is to create an alarm to protect an item from the classroom supplies thief. We call working with others teamwork and thinking of ideas together brainstorming. The advantage of working in teams is that everyone's ideas can be combined to come up with an especially great idea!

A photograph shows a woman waking up and reaching for an alarm clock near her bed.
Copyright © 1983-2001 Microsoft Corporation clipart


To share with the entire class:

  • an assortment of supplies from which the groups can share, such as: small bells, string, rubber bands (various sizes), balloons, wires (any type), marbles, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, paper cups (various sizes)
  • 2 rolls of masking tape
  • scissors
  • paper and pencils


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  1. Introduce the topic of alarms. Discuss the use of alarms in our daily lives and provide examples of their use and where they are found.
  2. Explain the engineering design challenge: To design and build an alarm system to protect something in the room using only the provided materials. For example, create an alarm to protect a student's desk, pencils, books, backpacks, aquarium, entry door or window.
  3. Show students the available materials. Discuss any safety concerns related to the materials and tools—specifically using caution with the wire and scissors.
  4. Explain some requirements:
  • Make your alarm system using the fewest materials possible.
  • Make your alarm system meet the criteria for all good designs that use multiple steps to achieve a result: A good design includes a labeled diagram, an explanation on how the alarm works, and a list of needed materials. (As necessary, talk about and explain what a design is and why it is important.)
  1. Organize the class into groups of three. Have each group select one classroom item to protect with an alarm system.
  2. Hand out paper and pencils and direct all students to draw alarm system designs. Then, within their groups, have students compare their designs, and pull from all the designs to create one final design to construct. Remind students that this is the brainstorming process.
  3. Have groups get instructor approval of their final designs before they begin building.
  4. Hand out the materials required by each group. Give students 20 minutes to build, test and improve their designs. Mention that these are the same steps engineers go through.
  5. Have groups present their final alarms to the class and explain how they work.
  6. Give students time for feedback and suggestions for improvement.
  7. Wrap up with a quick discussion.

Wrap Up - Thought Questions

  • Why do we need alarms? Where can we find them?
  • What do most alarms have in common?
  • For what reasons might we need an alarm in our classroom?
  • For what other purposes might an alarm be useful? (Example answer: Monitoring a research experiment on the international space station.)

More Curriculum Like This

Upper Elementary Activity
Make an Alarm!

After reading the story "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by Beverly Cleary, student groups create alarm systems to protect something in the classroom, just as the main character Leigh does to protect his lunchbox from thieves. Students learn about alarms and use their creativity to devise multi-step alarm systems...

Lower Elementary Informal Learning Activity
Haz una Alarma (para Aprendizaje Informal)

Los estudiantes diseñan y construyen un sistema de alarmas para proteger algo suyo cuando no están presentes.


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Last modified: May 12, 2022

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