In this lesson plan, children learn how important materials, design, and testing are to the process of building a strong structure. They begin by watching a video in which Curious George tries to build a wall to keep cows out of his flowerbed. Next, they build newspaper walls like George did and try out different solutions for making them stronger, testing each with a toy car released down a ramp. The children then work in groups to build new walls out of various materials. They conclude by designing and conducting fair tests of the different walls’ strength, rebuilding or reinforcing their walls as needed. As children go through the activities, they will be using the following science and engineering skills: asking questions, planning and conducting experiments, making predictions, testing and retesting, and making and sharing observations.
- Understand that materials and design are both important to the strength of a structure.
- Understand that building a sturdy structure requires planning and testing.
- String or clothesline
- Toy car
- Ramp (created by using wood, cardboard, a game board, or a large picture book)
- Newspaper sheets (2 to 3 per child)
- Materials for wall building (e.g., craft sticks, egg cartons, clay, play dough, small rocks, pieces of cardboard or poster board, paper tubes, paper cups, etc.)
1. Watch the video.
Explain to children that in the video, Curious George wants to stop Leslie and the other cows from munching on the flowers. He decides to keep the cows out by building a wall. Ask children to notice why George uses newspapers for his wall. Show the video Curious George: Build a Wall. (Note: you may want to explain that the narrator says, “No doubt in a cow’s stomach—or two” because a cow’s stomach has four compartments.)
2. Make newspaper walls.
- Tie a length of string between two tables or chairs (the string should be 1–2 feet from the ground).
- Let children use clothespins to attach newspaper pages to the line.
- Ask: When George made a newspaper wall like this, did it keep the cows away from the flowers? Why not?
- Explore the concept further by asking: Would this wall keep a toy car from getting through? Test it out by setting up a ramp near the wall (use wood, cardboard, a game board, or a large picture book for the ramp) and releasing a car from the top of the ramp.
- Ask children: How can we make this wall stronger? Try out the solutions they suggest, testing each with the toy car. Encourage children to suggest as many different solutions as possible, such as: tape the bottom edge of the newspaper to the floor, place blocks or books on the bottom edge, or build a block wall behind the newspaper.
3. Design and build.
- Have children work in groups. Invite them to build the strongest wall they can. The wall should be about as long as a ruler.
- Display various materials and let groups decide which they will use: craft sticks, egg cartons, clay, play dough, small rocks, pieces of cardboard or poster board, paper tubes, paper cups, etc.
4. Discuss and problem solve.
- As the groups work, circulate to watch, listen, and engage children in conversations.
- You may want to say: Tell me about your design. Why did you select these materials? Why did you think they would make a sturdy wall? How did you make them work together? What other materials would make your wall even stronger?
5. Test for stability.
- Challenge the children to develop a fair test to compare the strength of the different walls they have constructed. For example, place an identical ramp at the same distance from each wall and use the same vehicle as the moving force.
- Let children rebuild or reinforce their walls as needed, then retest.
- Encourage children to talk about the design elements that made their walls strong.
Extend with Books
Encourage children to use these books as they continue to learn about construction.
- Building a House by Byron Barton (Mulberry, 1990). From the foundation to the walls to the roof, simple pictures and text tell how a house is built.
- Building Our House by Jonathan Bean (Farrar, 2013). Based on a true story, a mom, dad, and kids all work together to build their very own house.
- How a House is Built by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House, 1996). Meet all the people, from the architect to the plumber, who use their skills, machines, and tools to build a house.