In this lesson plan, children follow the engineering design process to plan, build, and test how to make a vertical structure stable when upright. They begin by watching a video in which Curious George tries to build the “perfect perch” for Compass, the homing pigeon. The children discuss how engineers make different kinds of poles stand up, and then go outside to investigate how poles and other structures, like playground equipment, remain stable. Next, children begin a challenge to make a tall object stay upright: First they choose materials and then design, build, test, and modify their structure. They conclude by looking at their classmates structures and comparing what they have in common and then documenting their work. 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, drawing conclusions, and making, sharing, and documenting their work.
- Understand how a pole can be made stable by “planting” its base in the ground or adding supports to the base.
- Understand that the engineering design process involves a series of steps, including: planning, building, testing, and modifying as needed.
- Tall objects (e.g., wrapping paper rolls, yardsticks)
- Objects for base and supports (clay, play dough, sand, pebbles, plastic containers, cardboard tubes, Popsicle sticks)
- Poster paper, markers (if needed)
1. Watch the video.
Explain to children that George is determined to build the “perfect perch” for Compass, the homing pigeon. Most of his experiments don’t work—the pipe cleaner tree is too small and the clay tree is too soft. He finally realizes he must find something that will stay upright and be stable, just like a tree. Show the video Curious George: Pigeon Perch. (Note: you may want to preview the term “homing pigeon” with the children.)
2. Introduce and explore the topic.
- Ask the children: How do you think engineers make flagpoles, telephone or cable poles, and street signs stand up? How did George get his “tree” to stand up?
- Gather their ideas and write them on chart paper.
- Go outside to investigate. Have children test to see if the poles and street signs that you find are stable. Look for playground equipment and other structures.
- Ask: What do you think helps all these things stand up? Why do you think they don’t fall over?
- Look at trees and discuss what keeps a tree from falling down.
3. Choose materials.
- Back in the classroom, revisit the chart with the children’s ideas. Make corrections as needed.
- Tell children that their challenge will be to make an object stand upright.
- Give each group a tall object (wrapping paper roll, yardstick, etc.) to start.
- Ask: What classroom materials do you think could help you make your object stand up?
- Gather suggested materials and add some objects of the your own (e.g., clay, play dough, sand, pebbles, plastic containers, cardboard tubes, Popsicle sticks).
4. Design and build.
- Have each group look at the materials and plan a design. As the groups build, they can modify their design as needed.
- Circulate and engage the groups in problem-solving conversations. Ask, Why do you think your pole is wobbly? What can you do to make it more stable? Do you want to start over or can you add or change something?
5. Reflect and compare.
- After groups have completed the task, provide time for children to look at the work of their classmates.
- Ask: What do all of these standing structures have in common? What do you think helps them stand up? Which objects were the hardest to make stand up? Which objects were easier? What do you think make the difference?
- Post children’s observations on the chalkboard, whiteboard, or on poster paper.
6. Document the work.
- Distribute the Curiosity Lab handout.
- Take photos of the children’s creations or have them draw pictures. Have them write about (or dictate) what they did to make their pole stand up.
- Display the completed “Curiosity Lab” handouts so the class can continue to study and compare the different engineering solutions.
Extend with Books
Encourage children to use these books as they continue to learn about building and 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.
- Curious George Builds a Home by H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). When Curious George meets a pigeon, he decides that his balcony would be the perfect place for the bird’s home. (Available with companion DVD.)
- Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale (Lee & Low, 2012). Children from all over the world build their own versions of the world’s famous buildings.