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This lesson plan introduces a specific and urgent human problem: how to build a structure that will protect people from the ravages of a tidal wave or flood. Children will use their imaginations and collaborative skills to come up with a solution, then work together to build a structure into which they all can fit and be saved! This problem will probably require the children to figure out how to build a rather large structure.

Level: Intermediate
Age Group: Grades 3 to 5

Main Goal: Imagine how to build a structure to solve a real human problem. Collaborate with your team to design, construct, and evaluate your solution.

Guiding and supporting play

  • Observe, observe, observe!
  • Allow children to explore their own Rigamajig building ideas. There is no set formula for “right” or “wrong” outcomes.
  • Children may produce a variety of Rigamajig ideas to meet the basic objectives of the lesson plan. No two creations or play sessions are alike. Be comfortable with letting children’s play evolve.
  • Let them make “mistakes” and encourage them to problem-solve together. (Celebrate mistakes as opportunities to improve their design!)
  • Resist the urge to “fix” things for children and to show or tell children how to do things. Observe, and pay attention to children’s ideas and actions. Support play in ways that focus children on their own ideas. Ask about what students are planning to do, what they are making, and what they can change to make their Rigamajig work better?
  • Discover insights into children’s creative thinking, and foster creativity!

Materials needed

  • Rigamajig Basic Builder Kit

Getting started

“Imagine a tidal wave is coming toward the land! Build something that will protect your team on the land from the wave. What can you build to protect from the wave? What parts, pieces, or contraptions can you add to your Rigamajig to make it protect better? (Have students share ideas). Make sure whatever you build is big enough for all of you to fit inside, that it can protect all of you, and then test to see if it works! Talk about what you are going to build with your team, and then start building!”

While play is underway

Observe with an interested and supportive attitude and, as needed, encourage problem-solving thinking, creativity, collaboration, discussion, and questions.


Post some of the following words on a White Board, SmartBoard, sheet of chart paper or have the students make their vocabulary lists or posters of the key words. Encourage children’s use of these words as they design and build. Encourage children to label the physical components of their creations.

  • Flood, waves
  • Goal
  • Design
  • Solve Problem
  • Evaluate
  • Barrier
  • Diversion
  • Protection
  • Teamwork

Possible comments

  • Tell me about what you have in mind.
  • That’s an interesting idea for stopping the tidal wave! How can you build that?
  • Ask children to talk about experiences with floods or other natural disasters from their own lives.
  • Would you like one of your friends to help you do that?
  • I see something you made to stop the wave. How does it work?
  • Can you think of any way to fix that problem? Can you think of a solution? Can you try a different way?

What to look for

  • Watch for children’s collaborations in their thinking and construction. Offer encouraging words about working together to build something.
  • Pay particular attention to how children go about their construction process. Do they seem to have a specific goal? Or, do they seem more focused on learning about the properties of the materials and different things they can do with them?
  • Pay attention to the language children use when communicating with you or other children about their construction process. What do their words reveal about their knowledge of objects, physical processes, design, and/or social collaboration?
  • When children indicate they accomplished something, give them a chance to demonstrate their construction and how it works, and share with other children.

What if the children “stall”?

  • Sit with the group and ask them to discuss their ideas for what to build. Can they agree on something?
  • Ask what could be the first step (or the next step) in making what they want, and what each of them can do to contribute.
  • Reinforce that any kind of construction is OK, it’s whatever they want to do!
  • Building something and then ask children to join you in the exploration. Pick up a few pieces and put them together for children to see. Don’t be afraid to model taking a risk, exploring, or changing an initial idea.

Wrapping up & reflecting

  • Children can make a drawing of what they built and how it works.
  • Take photos of the construction(s), if the children seem interested in recording what they did with a photo. (Make a stop motion video of the children’s construction process.)
  • Ask children to draw a series of pictures about how they made their construction (show the process, from beginning to end.) Ask them to write a caption for each picture, describing was going on.
  • Clean up time: Encourage children to put the Rigamajig pieces away in a neat and orderly way.
  • If children are unable to finish a construction during a play session, offer the opportunity to leave the pieces together and finish building next time.
  • Lead discussions with children, one-on-one, small groups, whole class group, or between classrooms in schools, reflecting about their experiences. Examples:
    • Share something about what you made today with Rigamajig (tell about, show drawings, and/or read that you wrote; project drawings on the smartboard)
    • How did you think about what to make?
    • Did you work with other kids? Who? What did each of you do?
    • I noticed when you were building you had a problem getting your structure to stand up. What did you do to solve that problem?
    • I see when you were building you changed your plan. What did you change and why did you change it? What did you discover as you were building?
    • Would you like to work on (your construction) some more next time? What else would you like to do with it? What are your ideas for next time? What other problems could you solve using Rigamajig?
  • Arrange for each group to share what they did with the whole class or with other classrooms, giving each child an opportunity to demonstrate or talk about their design and building process.

Education standards addressed

  • Practice 1: Asking questions and defining problems.
  • Practice 2: Developing and using models.
  • Practice 6: Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering).
  • Practice 8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
  • 3-ESS3-1: Earth and Human Activity: Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.
  • 3-5-ETS1-1: Engineering Design: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

  • Identifies Problem/Communicates Goals
  • Design and Construction: collects materials and builds something
  • Evaluates: Observes, tests how structure works
  • Solves Problems: Verbally identifies problems or needed improvements, suggests solutions to problems
  • Uses Technical Vocabulary: uses STEM-related words

  • Creating
  • Collaborating
  • Problem solving
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Flexibility

  • Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere through solving them (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Practice 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Practice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Practice 7: Look for and make use of structure (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Measurement and Data: Represent and interpret data (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Measurement and Data: Solve problems involving measurement and estimation of intervals of time, liquid volumes, and masses of objects (Gr. 3)
  • Measurement and Data: Geometric Measurement: Understand concepts of area and relate area to multiplication and to addition (Gr. 3)
  • Measurement and Data: Geometric Measurement: Recognize perimeter as an attribute of plane figures and distinguish between linear and area measurements (Gr. 3)
  • Measurement and Data: Geometric Measurement: Understand concepts of angle and measure angles (Gr. 4)
  • Geometry: Draw and identify lines and angles, and classify shapes by properties of their lines and angles (Gr. 4)
  • Geometry: Reason with shapes and their attributes (Gr. 3)
  • Operations and Algebraic Thinking: Generate and analyze patterns (Gr. 3, 4)
  • Operations and Algebraic Thinking: Analyze patterns and relationships (Gr. 5)

  • Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
  • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

Download project plan

A Tidal Wave is Coming! PDF

With the help of Zachary S. Gold, Ph.D., James G. Elicker, Ph.D., The CarMax Foundation, and our friends at KaBOOM!, we've put together a few project plans to get you started. If you have any projects you'd like to share with the world, please email us at hi@rigamajig.com

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