The Three Little Pigs
A Design Exploration for Lower Level Students
Early elementary students gain experience with construction techniques for strength and stability.
This activity uses a well-known children's story to introduce elementary
students to some basics of structural support. Begin with a reading of
"The Three Little Pigs" and a discussion of how the pigs constructed
their houses. Have the students examine the structures like braces and
trusses (triangles connected together) that support the tables and
chairs in the classroom. You may want to let the students explore the
world outside, looking at structures supporting, containing, and
sheltering people and their belongings. A walking trip down the street
reveals houses and transportation structures like bridges and walkways.
The playground has structures to look at and the school building itself
is supported by braces and pipes that may be hidden.
Encourage a variety of designs and building techniques in the children's
structures. Design provides opportunities for experimentation.
Cooperative teamwork is essential to ensure all team members' ideas are
heard and considered.
The Challenge: Design and make a shelter for three pigs that the wolf
can not blow down.
Student teams may pick from three options for the shelter's main
structural support: toothpicks, straws, or rolled paper. The builders
may use only 16 total of whatever construction material they choose.
Each house must be no taller than 15 cm (6") and must fit into the
"footprint," a 15 cm x 15 cm (6" x 6") square marked on the table. Each
house must stand for three minutes when placed 7.5 cm (3") in front of a
One of the major challenges in this activity is ensuring that the
structures are well enough anchored to the tabletop to withstand the
fan's force. Provide a variety of construction and connecting materials
to bolster the structures and secure their foundations. Possible
materials are: glue sticks, staple gun, paper clips, marshmallows or
gumdrops, spaghetti noodles, soaked whole dry peas, brads, and tape.
Here are some methods that can work: straws attached with paper clips;
spaghetti noodles attached with masking tape; toothpicks connected with
marshmallows, gumdrops, or softened beans (let them dry overnight after
poking toothpicks in them); wood sticks and glue; and paper rolled
around pencils and taped, with the rolls taped together into structures.
The student teams will need a class period to design and build the
structures, readying them for the wind test. At the completion of the
test, each team should discuss its house and the reasons it stood or
fell when the fan blew on it.
Use a large sheet of chart paper with columns headed MATERIAL,
CONNECTOR, and RATING. Student teams fill out the data and rate the
materials based on their building experience.
The students' houses have been tested by a force from the side, but many
structures must withstand force from above. What structures are strong
enough to bear weight?
Give pairs of students a piece of copy paper and a 15cm (6") piece of
tape. Let them try to shape the paper so a book can be placed on it at
least 20 cm (8") above the table. A column of paper will hold a balanced
book. Continue to load books on the column until it collapses and let
the students mark areas of weakness and strength in their design. This
evidence of "buckling" helps illustrate stress points and areas that
need more support.
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