5-6, 7-8, 9-12, Robotics

Minimal materials, low prep, Winter Design Challenge!

Design challenges are great any time of year. A well-designed challenge encourages creative thinking, cooperative learning, and the chance to see ideas come to life! This particular challenge was designed as part of our sixth grade robotics unit. When prototyping their robots, my students tended to get hung up on making it look perfect before it actually worked. My goal with this activity, was to get them designing and redesigning with a time crunch and limited materials. You could add additional steps if you wanted them to also build and design the robotic components.

The key to a great design challenge is a problem statement with a less-obvious solution. For example, instead of asking students to design a new chair, ask them to design classroom seating. Instead of asking for a water bottle design, ask for a way to carry water. Here, I don’t ask them to design a plow; they already know what that looks like. Instead, I ask for a way to clear the snow. Last year, my students came up with all sorts of creative (and robotic!) solutions: heated roads, heat-generating street lamps, self-driving plows, robots that ate the snow, sustainable solutions that melted and cleaned the snow for reuse, and many more.

Snow Removal Design Challenge

Problem Statement: The City of Pittsburgh has announced that there may be a shortage of plow drivers this year so it may take longer to clear the roads. They’ve asked for your help to come up with alternate solutions to clear the snow.

Materials per group: 1 (empty) cardboard cereal box, 1 yard of masking tape, scrap paper or white boards for brainstorming (Feel free to add more supplies!)