Unit Overview: Exploring the Relationship Between Magnetism and Electricity

This inquiry unit takes students through a sequence of lessons where they make observations and conduct investigations to provide evidence that energy can be transformed and moved from place to place by electric currents to power circuits and create magnetic fields. This kit shares many connections with the RAFT Electrical Engineering kit designed for middle school students.  The unit begins with an empathy lesson that connects the importance of magnets to our modern lives.  The define lessons dive into core concepts of magnetism and demonstrate the relationship between electricity and magnetism.  The ideate, prototype, and test phases of the design thinking model are combined in a final design challenge where students apply their learning of electromagnetism concepts to build a unique device that powers an LED.

Educational Outcomes

  • Students will create a presentation demonstrating how magnetism affects their lives
  • Students will identify magnetic and non-magnetic items and investigate the magnetic force strength of ring magnets
  • Students will build a floating compass and use it to investigate the relationship between electricity and magnetism
  • Students will build a simple generator and spinning motor, demonstrating how magnetism causes electrons to flow
  • Students will collaboratively design, test, and refine their own unique generator or motor that will power an LED


Students learn and apply scientific concepts on electricity and magnetism throughout the unit.  The first lesson allows students to leverage technology in conducting research and developing a digital or poster presentation to define problems that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets (NGSS 3-PS2-4).  Lessons 2-4 provide opportunities for students to apply mathematical reasoning and measurement as well as investigation and observation skills while they use build generators and motors to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by electric currents (NGSS 4-PS3-2).  The culminating design challenge brings students through the engineering design process as they apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a generator or motor that will power an LED (NGSS 4-PS3-4).  This also gives students the freedom to iterate, think mathematically, and artistically express themselves through the use of various materials.

Design Thinking Overview


Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.

Common Core Math K.MD.A.2

Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/”less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.


Suggestions for pacing and differentiation

Lesson 2: If your students have already gained experience measuring with non-standard units, you may choose to skip this lesson.  Alternatively, if you have limited time, consider eliminating the activity where students categorize classroom furniture as movable, or not.

Lesson 3: This lesson allows for students to explore more/less as described in CCSS K.MD.A.2.  If you have limited time, or will cover this at another time, consider skipping this lesson.

Design Challenge: The design challenge portion of this unit can be extended through many student iterations.  If time allows, you may choose to have student diagram different classroom arrangements, actually move the furniture, then compare the reality with the diagram specifically looking to see if the measurements were accurate.  Rearranging multiple times, building new measuring tools, and reflection upon those iterations will give students more of an opportunity to understand the concepts of this unit.

STEAM Integrated Standards

NGSS 4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

NGSS 3-PS2-4 Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets.

NGSS 4-PS3-4 Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.

Unit Materials

RAFT Electromagnetism Kit:

  • Ring magnets
  • Mini bar magnets
  • RPM motor, large
  • Cardboard tubes, colored
  • Cardboard rings
  • Pony beads
  • Corrugated plastic strips, white
  • Silicone tubing
  • Wire connectors
  • Foam (size and/or shape may vary)
  • Deli containers
  • Craft sticks
  • Rubber bands
  • Wooden dowels
  • LEDs, red
  • Magnet wire
  • Plastic caps (color and/or type may vary)
  • Binder clips
  • Straws (size and/or color may vary)
  • Cable tie, releasable
  • Pencils


  • Paper, poster boards, or equivalent
  • Staplers w/ staples
  • Single-hole punches
  • Computers or mobile devices
  • Internet access

Maker Journal Pages

Lesson 1 Maker Journal

Lesson 2 Maker Journal

Lesson 3 Maker Journal (coming soon!)

Lesson 4 Maker Journal (coming soon!)

Design Challenge Maker Journal (coming soon!)

Lesson 1: Empathy: Magnetism in Our World 

Lesson Overview

This lesson begins with a brainstorm where students think of how often and where they encounter magnets in their everyday lives.  Students will share their ideas in groups and the discussion will be guided toward learning that magnets exist almost everywhere in our modern lives (learn more under Concept Quick Reference below).  The empathy lesson will continue with group research on different electromagnetism topics.  Students will develop a short presentations to introduce core concepts to their peers, which will be more thoroughly explored in future lessons.  Conducting research and creating presentations are ideal tools for teachers to use in reinforcing language and speaking skills as well as for evaluating student proficiency/mastery of core content knowledge.

Essential Questions

  • Where do magnets and magnetism exist in our everyday lives?
  • How has magnetism shaped our modern world and the natural world?


  • Prepare videos to show
  • Plan to facilitate whole group discussion
  • Preselect groups and assign research topics
  • Build in time for students to research and present their topics digitally or on a poster

Lesson Procedure

  1. This unit will be covering magnets, electricity and electromagnetism.  Ask students what they currently know about these topics.
  2. Assign students to work in groups, and think about how often they encounter magnets (or the effects of magnetism) in their daily lives.
  3. Guide the discussion to an understanding that magnetism exists in almost all aspects of modern life, and often in connection with electricity.   Show video: “Everyday uses of Magnets”.
  4. Print and pass out Lesson 1 Maker Journal page.  Assign research topics to groups (see below).
  5. Guide students to research information using multiple trusted sources (learn more) and present with proper attributions.
  6. Allow students to present and answer questions from their peers.

Research topics include:

  • The discovery and early uses of magnets
  • Magnets, navigation and exploration
  • Magnetism and animal life
  • Magnetism and Earth
  • Michael Faraday’s contribution to our understanding of magnetism
  • James Clark Maxwell’s contribution to our understanding of magnetism
  • How magnets work
  • The relationship between electricity and magnetism
Student Direction

Sample teacher and student dialog.  

T: Today, we’re going to start a unit on electromagnetism.  Believe it or not, magnets have played an essential role in science and our daily lives.  We’re going to learn about how magnets work, and a bit about electricity, and how electricity and magnets are connected.  Let’s focus today’s lesson on magnets.  What do you know about them?

S: They stick to each other. They can push and pull.

T: They do attract to each other, but do they attract to everything? And they do push and pull, but what are the reasons why magnets push and pull? Don’t worry, you’ll find out together. Let’s take a moment and do a thinking exercise. I want you to think about your daily lives, from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. During those hours, how often do you encounter magnets, or the force of magnetism? I want you all to talk to your group members and lists those moments.

S: “We came up with a list, and we encounter magnets when we open up our fridge, when going into our cars, when we use our computers, at school there are magnets on the white board, there are probably magnets in our TV as well.”

T: “Magnets and the force of magnetism are in almost everything we do. When we listen to the radio, that’s due to magnetism. When we get an MRI that involves magnetism. When we store and retrieve data on our computers, magnetism is often involved. But almost each and every one of you today encountered magnetism when you used electricity. ”

S: “How can electricity come from magnets?”

T: “That’s a great question, and we are going to figure that out together. But first, like true scientists, we’re going to do some research first. Let’s work in groups, and I will assign you all some topics to research, and we’ll come back to present to each other and learn as a group.”



Concept Quick Reference

To empathize is to develop an understanding of a real-world situation and feeling what another person is feeling.  This empathy lesson aims to develop, engage, and provide student ownership of understanding the problem and subject deeply.

Uses of Magnets in Our Daily Lives

“You come into contact with magnets many times in the course of your daily life. They play an important role in a wide range of devices including simple toys, computers, credit cards, MRI machines and business equipment. Magnets range in size from barely-visible specks to industrial monsters weighing tons. Though some are plainly visible, others are often tucked inside the inner workings of appliances and other household, medical and commercial items, doing their job silently and unseen.” – Faith Chandler, Uses of Magnets in Our Daily Life

Lesson Materials


  • Pen and Pencil
  • Paper, poster board, or equivalent


  • Computers or mobile devices
  • Internet access

External Resources

YouTube: Everyday Uses of Magnets

Maker Journal Pages 


Teacher Notes

Conducting Web Research

Model good techniques for safe quality internet searches.  Consider pre-selecting sites that yield quality information on atomic structure, electric forces, static electricity, and fields.  Sites having .edu or .org are often more reliable for accurate information on a topic.  Sites ending in .comtend to be focused on specific products to be sold to a consumer and therefore the information can be biased.

Learning Targets

  • Students will be able to connect magnetism to historical discoveries, natural processes, and societal applications.



Student Self Assessment

Students can review and correct their presentations for research quality and sourcing, and for proper grammar, timing, and organization.

Peer Assessment

Students can share their learning obtained from the other group’s presentations, asking and answering peer questions.

Teacher Assessment

Review student research notes recorded in the Lesson 1 Maker Journal; ask clarifying questions during the presentations.

Lesson 2: Define: What is a Magnet?

Lesson Overview

Students investigate magnets and magnetic and non-magnetic materials to understand their properties, recording their observations.  They build a levitating ring magnet on a dowel and use the device to observe, measure, and analyze data on the repulsion force of magnetism.

Essential Questions

  • What is a magnet? What is a magnetic material? What is a non-magnetic material?
  • What are the behaviors or properties of magnets?


Build up personal excitement for the wonderful world of magnetism.

  • Prepare videos to show
  • Plan to facilitate whole group discussion
  • Collect a variety of different magnets, magnetic and non-magnetic materials
  • Prepare levitating ring magnet materials
  • Print copies of Lesson 2 Maker Journal

Lesson Procedure

  1. Facilitate student exploration of the interactions between a variety of magnets of different shapes and types, along with a variety of magnetic and non-magnetic items.
  2. Students record their observations of interactions in the Lesson 2 Maker Journal.  They should observe that magnets and magnetic materials attract each other equally.
  3. Have students share and discuss their observations.
  4. Ask “Does a magnet ever repel anything?  How do you know?”  Write responses on the board and have students point out similarities or differences in the responses, highlighting any patterns.
  5. Show video: Magnets: How Do They Work?
  6. Facilitate the kinesthetic activity entitled “Magnet, Magnetic, Non-Magnetic.”  Directions for this activity are found in the Teacher Notes section (right margin of this page).
  7. Allow students to reflect on their learning from the video and activity.  Clarify where necessary (see note below).
  8. Show video: RAFT Magnetic Pole.  The video contains instructions to build a magnetic device similar to the one described in the RAFT idea sheet Levitating Ring Magnets.  Provide the materials in the RAFT Electromagnetism Kit or equivalent materials for students to use in assembling the levitating ring magnet device.
  9. Challenge students to find a way to measure how much weight is needed to push the magnets together and overcome the repulsion force.  Encourage students to see if they can graph their data and determine the relative strength of the repulsion force.  Students draw the graphs and record their observations in the Lesson 2 Maker Journal.
  10. Ask students reflect on what they learned that was new or that conflicted with what they thought they knew about magnets.

Note: The background material discussed in the Concept Quick Reference section below should be presented in an appropriate way for the understanding level of the students.  Older students could be presented with statements and/or common misconceptions about magnetism to research and report back to the class.  It should be noted that there is always more to learn.  Even ferromagnetism, the most commonly experienced type, is only one of several different types of magnetism in nature.

Student Directions

Sample teacher and student dialog.

T: “How many of you are familiar with magnets or magnetic objects?”

S: “Magnets are rocks or metals that stick to metal things.”  “Magnets have iron in them!”

T: “That’s right.  What do you feel when magnets are close to each other?  Do they interact in some way?”

S: “Magnets have poles, like, the north pole of a magnet is attracted to the south pole of other magnets.”  “Some magnets are pulled together but other ones push each other away.  Opposites attract!”

T: “So we’re somewhat familiar with what magnets are and have some experience with them.  Today we will explore magnets and magnetic objects further and at a much deeper level so that we understand the science behind magnetic phenomena.  First, we’ll explore a variety of magnets and objects.  Then we’ll see some videos and do a short activity to check our understanding of what causes magnets to behave as they do.  Lastly, we’ll investigate magnetic forces by assembling a device that will allow you to create your own method of measuring the strength of a force called repulsion.”


Concept Quick Reference

Magnets are items that can contain Nickel, Cobalt, and/or Iron.  Subatomically, their unpaired electrons can be made to point in the same direction.  While these materials are magnetic they will become a magnet only after being placed in a strong magnet field.  The unpaired electrons will become aligned and will stay aligned even after the magnet field is removed for these elements.  The aggregated strength of each electron’s magnetic field gives the overall material the strong N and S polarization we experience and label as “north pole” and “south pole”.  Magnets always have a pair of north and south poles.  Some exceptionally strong magnets contain elements from the rare earth part of the periodic table of elements such as neodymium and are referred to as “rare earth magnets”.

Magnetic materials are those that are mutually attracted to a magnet.  They could contain nickel, cobalt, and/or iron in pure or mixed form.  Steel is a mixture of iron and other elements.  Items made from steel are the ones most commonly found to be attracted to a magnet.  Subatomically, all their unpaired electrons have magnetic fields pointing in random directions; however, when a magnet’s magnetic field is brought near enough to one of these materials, the unpaired electrons of nickel, cobalt, and/or iron will rearrange their direction of spin to create a temporary (usually) magnetic field opposite orientation to the magnet’s magnetic field.  The oppositely oriented magnetic fields will mutually attract each other.  Note that a US “nickel” contains too little nickel for the attraction to overcome the force of gravity.  Certain Canadian coins, a country with large nickel mines, do have a high enough percent of nickel content to be attracted to a magnet.  Also certain coins from England have a copper coating over a steel core and so are also attracted to a magnet.  Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and other elements that resists rust (“stainless”) but is also much less attracted to a magnet than say a steel can of soup or other food.

Non-magnetic items are materials that do not contain elements of nickel, cobalt, and/or iron embedded inside and will not turn magnetic even when a magnetic field is brought near them.

Lesson Materials

Building Materials

RAFT’s Exploring Electromagnetism Kit

  • Styrofoam base
  • Straws or pencil
  • Donut Magnets
  • Plastic Disks
  • Tape

Maker Journal Pages


Teacher Notes

The kinesthetic activity entitled “Magnet, Magnetic, Non-Magnetic” provides students the opportunity to check their own understanding of magnetic vs. non-magnetic materials and the related effect on the materials due to a magnetic field.  It also serves as a formative assessment tool for the teacher/facilitator.  Click HERE for activity instructions.

Learning Targets

  • Students will conduct an investigation to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact


Lesson 3: Define: Magnet and Compass Investigation

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students observe magnetism on a planetary scale by building a floating compass to understand that magnetism is an invisible force that is all around us.  They also create an electrical field and observe the effect on the compass needle in order to build an understanding of the relationship between magnets and electricity.

Essential Questions

  • How does Earth behave like a magnet?
  • How does a compass work?
  • What happens when an electrical field is introduced to a compass?  Why?


  • Print and distribute Lesson 3 Maker Journal
  • Review videos on magnetism that will be shown
  • Assemble a floating compass to use as a demonstration
  • Prepare the materials needed for the students to assemble compasses and investigate electrical effects

Lesson Procedure

  1. Divide students into groups.
  2. Share the following information with students: People from centuries ago observed that magnets had the ability to move certain objects, and that magnets had the ability to move and align themselves in a certain direction (early compass).
  3. Ask students to reflect on their own experiences with compasses and have them share their experiences in groups, then call on a few students to share with the whole class.
  4. Identify which side of the room/space is north, then ask students to point in the direction they believe is north.  When the class has correctly identified the direction north, remind them that they will be assembling their own compasses and will use there knowledge of north to determine how to properly label their compasses.
  5. Show students the Floating Compass video.  Ask students to identify specific materials and other things in the video that stood out for them.
  6. Distribute the materials for assembling the compasses.  Students follow the instructions from the video and prepare the floating compasses.  Provide assistance as necessary.  Note: If you do not have the RAFT Electromagnetism Kit, you can use the idea sheet RAFT Floating Compass for instructions on how to build something similar.
  7. Lead the discussion to an understanding that the Earth has a magnetic field that influences the magnets in our compasses.  The Earth’s magnetic field also protects us from solar radiation, helps animals navigate when migrating, and gives us the phenomenon of the Northern lights.  Challenge students to question why the north pole of a magnet will point to the north pole of the Earth, which seems to contradict the idea that north and north will repel each other.
  8. This step can done as a demonstration or a carefully guided experiment, because it requires introducing an electric current close to the floating compass. Make a tin foil wire and attach it to AA batteries, and bring it close to the magnet as show on the video.  Or show Youtube video: The Deflection of a Magnetic Compass Needle By A Current In A Wire. Have students note how compass acts when electricity is nearby. Highlight that understanding that electricity can influence magnets, and vice versa is the basic knowledge which we use to create electricity for the world.
  9. Ask students recap by sharing their reflection and curiosity about the core concepts and their learning experience so far.
Quick Concept Reference

Why does the north pole of a magnet point to the North Pole of the earth?  We know that the north end of a magnet will be repelled by the north end of another magnet, but attracted to the southern end of that same magnet.  Shouldn’t the north end of the magnet be attracted to the south pole of a magnet?

Early explorers found that one end of a magnetize material, such as naturally occurring magnetite or magnetized piece of iron, would point North.  They called that the “north seeking pole (end)” of the magnet.  Over time that was shorten to “north pole” of the magnet or compass needle.  While the compass needle pointed to the geographical North it did so because the Earth’s magnetic field created a south magnetic pole in the North Polar Region and a north magnetic pole in the South Polar Region.  The two words are spelled the same but refer to two different concepts and hence the confusion.

A charged particle, negative or positive, has an electrical field around it.  Static electrical experiments can be used to explore these charged particle/object interactions.

Lesson Materials

Building Materials

  • Doggie Magnets
  • Plastic Containers to hold water
  • Plastic caps

Maker Journal Pages

Floating Compass Idea Sheet


Teacher Notes

Put all materials in a location that is safely accessible to students.  Keep all wires and leads untangled and check light bulbs to identify those that are broken or burned out.



Learning Targets

  • Students will explore the cause-and-effect relationships that affect the magnitudes of electric forces
  • Students will use observations to develop explanations for how electrical energy moves



Student Self Assessment

Student will assess their understanding by building an explanation of why and how compasses work with the earth.

Lesson 4: Define: What is the relationship with magnets and electricity?

Define –state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of.

Define phase – Lessons that builds on student’s methods, skills, knowledge of core concepts.


Essential Question:

What is electricity?  How do we create electricity with magnets?

How does a generator work? What type of energy is converted? How does this affect our environment?

How does this affect our environment?

 Lesson Overview:

In this define phase, students will learn that electricity is a foundation of how our world works with an empathy exercise. The lesson continues with students watching a video on electricity and magnetism.  The lesson continues with a discussion that defines the core scientific concept that: electricity is created when electrons flow. The flow of electrons will be reinforced with an activity that demonstrates how we use magnetism to move electrons, and established the mechanical principles of how motors, generators, turbines, and dynamo works. Students will cap the lesson by creating RAFT’s Simple Motor kit.

Professional Preparation:

  • Pre-watch videos needed for the lesson.
  • Print out material for Flowing Electron exercise.
  • Prepare materials needed for RAFT’s shake generator.
  • Build up knowledge about energy, electricity, and generators.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Turn off all electricity in your classroom. Ask students what a world without electricity might look and sound like. Print and pass out MakerJournal Free Write, A World With Electricity. Have students work in group, each group will be assigned a field or industry of society and asked to write how that segment might be affected without electricity. Some examples are:
    • Healthcare
    • Sports
    • Tech / Communication
    • Food workers
    • Transportation
  2. Show first 1:40 YouTube video clip of “What is Electric Current?” to highlight that electricity is created when electrons flow (learn more). Show first 4:00 minutes of “How Magnets Produce Electricity” to highlight that rotating a magnetic field will cause electrons to flow. Lead the discussion so it that reinforces these core concepts.
  3. Print out MakerJournal Flow of Electrons Exercise. Two students will work at north and south end of a magnetic field, while rest of students will act as electrons. When magnetic field cuts through electrons, electrons will be sent of walking to another area. Highlight that this example is the basics of how we create electricity, we find ways to spin a magnet around coils of wires.
  4. Lead discussion and show picture examples of motors and generators. Highlight that what motors and generators do is: convert mechanic energy (system to spin a magnet) to electrical energy (the movement of electrons). [Learn More] Show YouTube video on “Electricity Generation,” and highlight that our current system to spin magnets still produces waste, challenge students to imagine other systems we can use to spin magnets and produce electricity that creates less pollution.
  5. Ask students to recap by sharing their reflection and curiosity about the core concepts and their learning experience so far.


Student Direction

Sample teacher and student dialog.

T: Show students pictures of a common diodes.  You can find several pictures using Google Images.  “What is the name of this electrical component?  Has anyone seen these before?”

S: “Is it a resistor?”  “It looks like a diode.”  “I saw these on a computer motherboard before!”

T: “We are going to construct circuits that contain a special component called a diode.  Diodes act as a one-way valve for electrical current in a circuit.  You will be building circuits together in both series and parallel configurations that contain a diode and two light bulbs.  You will have to discover the correct way to connect the diode within the circuit so that both bulbs light in one configuration and only one bulb lights in another configuration.  I will not be telling you how to assemble the circuits, but you are already familiar with series and parallel circuits.  Building on this knowledge and applying what we will soon learn about diodes, you will be successful!”

S: “A one-way valve only allows stuff to move one way, so if electrical current can only move one way through a circuit, the light bulb might not light.”  “The current cannot flow backwards across the diode!”

T: “This is what you will soon find out.  Remember to think about electrical current in terms of electrical forces pushing energy through the circuit.  We will relate this concept to the role of the diode and its attributes (its characteristics that allow it to behave as it does).  You will record your observations and ideas in the Maker Journal Page for the lesson.”


Lesson Materials

Building Materials

  • None

External Resources

YouTube Videos:

US Department of Energy’s “How Magnets Produce Electricity.”

Spark Fun’s “What is Electric Current?”

Energy 101’s “Electricity Generation.” 

Maker Journal Pages

Flow of Electrons


Teacher Notes

  • Place all materials on a table or cart that is safely accessible to all students
  • Make sure students immediately report broken or burned out components
  • Encourage students to review information on electrical forces, voltage, current, etc.


Learning Targets

  • Students will be able to build circuits containing diodes
  • Students will be able to describe the role of diodes in electric circuits and their affect on electric forces in a circuit



Student Self Assessment

Each student uses a highlighter to trace the path of electric current through each of the circuits drawn in the Maker Journal page.

Peer Assessment

Student teams share their highlighted electric current paths and discuss them in terms of electric forces.

Teacher Assessment

Call on individual students to elaborate on their circuit designs by completing the sentence frame below.  Make corrections or clarify as needed:

  • “This circuit demonstrates (reverse / forward) bias across the diode because …”

Design Challenge: Generating Electricity to Power an LED

Design Challenge Overview

In the culminating project, students are challenged to work as a team and create a way to spin a generator to power a LED light for 10 seconds. Using the prior knowledge obtained in the empathy and define stages of the engineering design process, students will generate ideas and themes, build prototypes, test and reflect on whether their design meets and exceeds the criteria and constraints.


Essential Questions:  

  • Challenge: Can your group create a device to spin the generator and power up the LED light bulb? 
  • What were you able to learn by testing your design? How can you use that knowledge to iterate your design?
  • Your device converted what type of energy into electrical energy?


  1. Remind students that electricity is an integral part of how our society works. A large majority of the world still creates energy by creating a way to spin a magnet around a coil of wires, converting mechanical energy into electricity. Ask students what are some current methods we use to spin turbines and produce electricity?
  2. Have students follow RAFT’s ElectroMagnet Generator Youtube Video with instructions to build their first generator.
  3. Present to students that their challenge: is to create a system to spin the magnets and keep the LED lit for 10 seconds.
  4. Introduce students to suggested criteria and constraints of their Design Challenge.
    Criteria (design requirements) Constraints (design limitations)
    • The device must light up the LED light bulb for 10 seconds.
    • The devices must use materials approved by teachers.
    • MakerJournal must include sketch of design, any results from testing, and ideas for improvement.
    • The device can not use batteries to spin the generator.
    • The device can not be human powered. You can not just spin it for 10 seconds.
  5. Allow students time to brainstorm, and sketch ideas in MakerJournal (Define and ideate stage).
  6. Allow students to build an initial design (prototype stage).
  7. Allow students to test and reflect (test stage).
  8. Allow students to iterate on their design (iteration cycle).
  9. Ask students to recap by sharing their reflection and curiosity about the core concepts and their learning experience so far.


Introduce the Design Challenge

Criteria & Constraints

Remember, all engineers deal with criteria and constraints when engineering. Engineers design things using some rules about how the designs must behave or work.  These rules are called criteria.  Engineers can run out of materials, money, time to build, or space in which to build something.  In other words there are limits on how something can be built.  These limits are called constraints.  The criteria and constraints for this challenge are below.


Have students work in groups, and brainstorm then sketch out their game board and circuitry on paper. Ask students to label key components of their game and of the circuitry of their game. Explain to students their sketches will be a part of their journal, and will be used to mark down where the device needs improvement.

Student Directions

T: Now that we had practice creating a generator, here is your challenge. We will work in teams, and your challenge will be to create a system to light the LED light for 10 seconds. Here are some of the criteria and constraints.


If a makerspace is available at your site, the prototyping phase is most conducive in this environment. Alternatively, supplies from RAFT’s Electrical Engineering module can be presorted on a table so that students can easily see, take, and return materials. Have students select a materials manager to bring supplies and avoid any potential traffic jams in the classroom. 

Display criteria and constraints rules somewhere visible to all students. Allow students 10-15 minutes of build time, and then 10 minutes of testing in front of the class. This structure works for classrooms with less space, limited the testing area. This encourages group presentation during the testing phase where everyone gets to see each group test and present their design.

 Alternatively, allow for 20-25 minutes of combined build and testing time. This structure works for larger classroom with more available testing areas, and students who work better through self-organizing. In this model, students get to test freely as they build, and can go through more iterations. 

Student Directions

T: Let’s take our sketches and start creating our prototypes. Remember, only the supply coordinator should make it up to get supplies. We’ll have 15 minutes to try create our first prototype. Don’t worry about if you can’t finish on time, remember it’s our first prototype but we’ll have a second iteration.

S: We can make anything we want.

T: Yes, but remember it has to fit into the criteria and the constraints.

S: What happens if we need help?

T: First ask your team members, then if your whole team still need a bit of help, let an adult know.

Test and Reflect on your  Design

Testing can be done in groups with each group taking turns to present in class, this helps to build public speaking and is a fun way of learning that failure points in your device are completely a natural part of engineering. Testing can also be done during build time to reduce pressure and induce more participation. Have students come up to testing area, and demonstrate their completed system.

Student Directions

Guiding Question:

How can you harness energy to spin the magnets?

In what ways can we get objects to move without using human or battery power?

Were some reasons why your device might not have worked as you planned?

How can you improve on your design?

Concept Quick References

Engineering Design Process

The engineering design process is an iterative process. Through testing, and data collecting (or lessons learned) engineers recreate through several iterations the design changes progresses incrementally until a final solution is created. There are many examples of the engineering design process, but all will follow the same principles of understanding a problem, brainstorming ideas, prototyping a solution, testing the solution, and reiterating the process. 

Open and Close Circuits

A closed circuit board has a pathway for electrons to flow without interruptions. With all wires attached properly, and connected to an energy source like batteries, a close circuit should allow for electrons to flow to lights, speakers, and all components of the board.

An open circuit board might have the pathway for election to flow, but there is a gap somewhere that stops the cyclical flow, and the components of the board will not operate. A switch allows us to turn on and off a device by either breaking the pathway of electrons in the off position or be reconnecting the pathway of electrons.

Design Challenge Materials

Building Materials

  • all materials supplied in RAFT’s Electromagnetism Unit
  • any additional material around classroom.

External Resources

“The Loathsome, Lethal Mosquitoes” by TED-Ed

Maker Journal Pages


Teacher Notes

Normalize that failing is a way of learning that is common for all people, even professionals such as engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and athletes. Have signage around the class that supports growth mindsets. Use acronyms such as First Attempt In Learning (F.A.I.L).

Allow students to work through challenges, even if it seems they are having a tough time. Reference criteria and constraints to students as guideline, rules, and instructions for their design, and refrain from giving too much clarification. Students will get it.



Active Classroom

Tips for success in an active classroom environment:

Communication is critical in the design process. Students need to be allowed to talk, stand, and move around to acquire materials. Help students become successful and care for the success of others by asking them to predict problems that might arise in the active environment and ask them to suggest strategies for their own behavior that will ensure a positive working environment for all students and teachers.

Practice and predict clean-up strategies before beginning the activity. Ask students to offer suggestions for ensuring that they will leave a clean and useable space for the next activity. Students may enjoy creating very specific clean-up roles. Once these are established, the same student-owned strategies can be used every time hands-on learning occurs.

Learning Targets

MS-PS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.

  • Students will apply prior knowledge to design, construct, and test a solution that transfers energy.
  • Students will apply prior knowledge to design, construct, and test a solution that can complete a circuit and manipulate the flow of electrons.



Student Self Assessment

Student groups review their makerspace journal and summarize their learning in a group discussion

Peer Assessment

Student groups discuss and compare their findings and share different critical uses for water and methods of freshwater transportation that they discover in their research. Students should also share the difficulties that they discovered in transporting freshwater.

Teacher Assessment

Review student makerspace journal pages for formative assessment and discuss with individual groups as they work.

Conduct a whole group discussion to allow all students to share, discuss and compare their findings around different critical uses for water and methods of freshwater transportation that they discovered in their research. Students should also share about the difficulties in transporting freshwater.

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