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This lesson plan presents a complex problem with multiple goals and constraints. Children will need to think and plan, and then build a contraption that does 3 different things. They will first think and plan on paper. Then share their plans with team members, and combine their ideas into a possible solution. Then they will build the contraption they designed, evaluate it, and make modifications as needed.

Level: Advanced
Age Group: Grades 3 to 5

Main Goal: Collaborating with a peer group, design and build a contraption that will work to meet several functional needs. Evaluate the results of their construction and improve it if needed.

Guiding and supporting play

  • Observe, observe, observe!
  • Allow children to explore their own Rigamajig play ideas. There is no set formula for “right” or “wrong” outcomes.
  • Children may produce a variety of ideas to meet the objectives of this lesson plan. No two creations or play sessions are alike.
  • Encourage them to collaborate, but be comfortable with letting children’s design solutions evolve.
  • Let them make “mistakes” and 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 their creativity!

Materials needed

  • Rigamajig Basic Builder Kit
  • One Teddy Bear or other stuffed animal (about 12 inches tall)
  • Tape to mark off a “river” on the floor (two parallel strips of tape, about 6 feet apart, with additional space to build on each side)
  • Pencils and paper for each student

Getting started

“Today you are going to design and build contraption for this teddy bear to do 3 things: 1) lift an object off the floor to put into the contraption; 2) help the bear drive across the room to the river; and 3) get across this river without sinking or getting wet. Work with your group to design a contraption that can do these 3 things. (Write these 3 requirements on the WhiteBoard or chart paper.) First, use the paper and pencils to draw your ideas about what the contraption should look like and how it will do these 3 things. Share with your group, and then decide which ideas to use. Then build your contraption, and see how it works!”


  • Show a video or share books on design before beginning to help inspire.
  • Offer this lesson plan as a large group project so it involves deep research. Different small groups can do different aspects of the challenge.
  • Map out an obstacle course for the contraptions, creating a narrative for the teddy bear’s mission. This provides an opportunity to transform the classroom and engage in large-scale collaborative thinking.

While play is underway

Watch 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.

  • Goal
  • Design
  • Build
  • Solve Problems
  • Transport
  • Propel
  • Lift/Lower
  • Teamwork

Possible comments

  • Tell me about what you have in mind for your contraption? How will you design a contraption that will get across the room, get across the river, and lift something into it?
  • That’s an interesting idea! How can you do that?
  • Ask children to talk about experiences from their own lives.
  • Would you like one of your friends to help you do that?
  • I see something that you made that rolls/floats/goes up and down! How does it work?
  • Can your contraption roll? Cross the river? Lift something?
  • 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.
  • If there are disagreements within the group about how and what to build, you may want to meet with the group and help them come to a decision. (Possible to save some ideas for future builds!)
  • Pay particular attention to how children go about their construction process. Do they maintain their focus on their design goals? Ask again about their ideas for how to meet each of the 3 design requirements.
  • Pay attention to the words children use when communicating with you or other children about their design and construction process. What do their words reveal about their knowledge of objects, physical processes, design, and/or social collaboration?
  • When children indicate they have accomplished something, give them a chance to demonstrate how the contraption works, and share with you and other children.

What if the children “stall”?

  • Sit with the group and ask them to discuss their ideas for what kind of contraption they want to build. What are the important things their contraption needs? Ask them to make a list on paper of the important features they want to include. Can they agree on those features?
  • It may be helpful for the group to look online at pictures of contraptions and structures that can move across land, get across a river, and lift an object to put inside.
  • Ask what could be the first step (or the next stop) in constructing what they want, and what each of them can do to contribute.
  • Reinforce that any kind of design is OK, it’s whatever they want to do that helps the teddy bear and meets the design requirements!
  • 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 the contraption they built and how it works.
  • Take photos of the construction process, if the children seem interested in recording what they did. Children may then write captions for the images.
  • Make a video of the children’s process, from beginning to end, including planning.
  • They can edit how the process is shown and add a narrative!
  • Ask children to draw a series of pictures about how they made their contraption (show the process, from beginning to end.) Ask them to write a caption for each picture, describing what was going on.
  • Assign each child to write a short fictional story about why and how the bear needed to lift something into her/his contraption, then drive to the river, and then cross the river safely. Include in the story how the bear planned and built the contraption and then took a trip across the river.
  • 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, in small groups, as a whole class group, or between classrooms the school, reflecting about their experiences. Prompt examples:
    • Share something about how you made your contraption for Teddy (tell about what it needed to do, show drawings, and/or read what you wrote; project drawings on the smartboard)
    • How did you come up with your ideas about what to make?
    • How did your group work together to build your contraption? What did each of you do?
    • I noticed when you were building you had a problem (state what you observed).
    • What did you do to solve that problem?
    • Would you like to work on your contraption some more, to make it better? What else would you like to add or change? What are your ideas for next time?
  • 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 3: Planning and carrying out investigations.
  • Practice 4: Analyzing and interpreting data.
  • 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.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2 Engineering Design: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3 Engineering Design: Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
  • 3-PS2-1: Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

  • Identifies Problem/Communicates Goals
  • Creativity, Innovation
  • Design and Construction: Collects materials and builds
  • 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: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Practice: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Practice: Look for and make use of structure. (Gr. 3, 4, 5)
  • Measurement and Data: Understand concepts of area and relate area to multiplication and addition. (Grade 3)
  • Geometry: Reason with shapes and their attributes. (Gr. 3)
  • Geometric Measurement: Understand concepts of volume and relate volume to multiplication and to addition. (Gr. 5)
  • Operations and Algebraic Thinking: Generate and analyze patterns. (Gr. 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

Driving Teddy—Across, Over, Up, and Down! 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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