Simple Parts – Part I – Reiteration and Defining the Problem


Introducing the Materials

Show students the materials and explain classroom procedures for getting them, and also clean-up expectations. (eg. 1 person from each group come up, or 1 group at a time, or distribute buckets of materials to each group, etc.) Have the students in groups.


Build the tallest freestanding structure you can in 5 minutes.

After time is up, do a gallery walk so students can see how other children solved the problem. Measure heights with a meter stick (structures must remain standing without being held). Discuss observations of what worked and what didn’t work.


Have students return to their groups and take another 5 minutes to either reinforce or completely rebuild their structure. After time is up, give out the group challenge/documentation sheets. Remind students to put names of all group members on the page. Have groups record the two different heights of their structures, and briefly describe what they did different between first and second iterations, and whether they were successful at making a stronger and/or taller structure.


Failing is ok, so long as we learn from it (and let other people learn from it) by re-iterate after.

Defining the Problem


On each of the group challenge/documentation sheets is a different challenge prompt. “We’re going to make a model of something, but first we need to brainstorm ideas of things we could make that meet this criteria”

Give students 5 minutes to write a list of as many possible ideas they can think of; things that meet one of the following criteria. (NOTE: each of the student Group Booklets is unique – has a different criteria)

  • “A vehicle”
  • “Something that uses an engine to move people around”
  • “A vehicle that transports people through the air”
  • “Something that helps people move through water”
  • “A public transportation vehicle
  • ”Something that you can use to move yourself around”
  • “A thing that transports people from one place to another”

Ask students to count how many answers they came up with. Have each group share their number and read some aloud. Finish with the group that has: “Make a model of a thing that transports people from one place to another”. Have students reflect in their groups on the types of answers people came up with.


(For groups that are having difficulty reflecting) Which group had the most ideas answers and why? How do possible solutions to this task change if the question was rephrased to the last one? In what way are these questions biased? Did questions put limitations on how students could respond? Is there something (or category of things) that each challenge leaves out? Can we infer that certain questions force us into (somewhat) pre-determined possible answers? (see Google Doc Reflection Assignment Part I)


Discovering or finding the right framing of a problem is often more important than solving the problem!


In their group, students choose one vehicle from their list, and build a model of it with limited materials, within a time limit. (eg. maximum 10 items, 2 minutes) 


This is in preparation for the third activity on Communication through Drawings. Each group member uses their own piece of grid paper to draw their interpretation of the object – for the purpose of communicating to someone else who will need to make their own copy of the object (have a strict time limit – if they don’t finish, it should STILL be collected!)

Teacher takes a picture of each object before taking them apart (on the group names page for later reference – so it’s easy to tell which students worked on which shapes).


Part I – Reiteration, Creativity, & Defining the Problem

Part II – Empathy & Communication

Part III – Communication through Drawings