Example Activities

Crossing the canyon


“Fred”, a half pound plastic bag of sugar needs to get across the canyon, made up of two cardboard boxes spaced exactly 12” apart.


THE IgniteIt! KIT

  • Blank sketch pad for designing and planning
  • 12” ruler for measuring
  • Digital camera for documenting and evidence collection
  • Two (2) cardboard boxes
  • One (1) baggie of popsicle sticks
  • One (1) baggie of wooden spools
  • Half roll of string, half roll of twine
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Plastic cups
  • A color photo of a canyon (laminated)


In training, teachers were given tips on teaching the vocabulary word CANYON. In the 3-minute refresher video, teachers were reminded to once again share the definition and canyon photograph (included) with students, especially ESL students. They are also reminded to quickly introduce (or remind) students how to place labels on a sketch.

Students are grouped into small teams of 3-4. Before they begin to build, the teacher instructs them to develop their plans and sketches. The only rules? At least one sketch must be drawn with labels of the materials the students plan to use.

Common Core State Standards reached during the planning phase:

  • Construct viable arguments and critique reasoning of others (Math Standard)
  • Developing Possible Solutions with design sketches (Disciplinary Core Ideas)
  • Developing and Using Models (Science and Engineering Practices)
  • Know and use various text features, e.g. labels in a design (Literacy)
  • Participate in shared research projects (Writing)


The students are instructed to balance the bag of sugar “Fred” across the boxes, spaced 12” apart. Once the design sketch is complete, the teams may begin.

The students attempt to balance Fred by creating various support structures to hold the weight.

Differentiation options:

  • For advanced students, ask them to transport Fred from one side to the other without using their hands
  • For advanced students, remove a particular material (e.g. popsicle sticks) and ask them to try a new design
  • For struggling students, the structure does not have to hold the weight of Fred, but must cross from one side to the other without falling to the ground

Common Core State Standards reached during the building phase:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them (Math)
  • Use appropriate tools strategically (Math)
  • Measure lengths indirectly and by iterating length units (Measurement and Data)
  • With guidance from adults, gather information from provided sources to answer a question (Literacy)


The teacher gathers the students to wrap-up with a discussion.  The teachers focused on teamwork, problem solving, which ideas went well and why and what lessons come next in the unit.

Activities in Action

Crossing the Canyon: Engineering and Design

The team works together to figure out a pulley system to get the bag of sugar across the canyon.