Designing Recreational Equipment for Microgravity
Grade Level: 5-8
Educational Objectives and Standards
National Education Standards/Benchmarks
Evaluation of Objectives
Students will use the technology design process to
design playground, exercise, or recreational equipment that could
be used in microgravity.
ITEA 8, 11
NSES E1, E2
Create a labeled blueprint and model of the equipment
and explain how it meets the criteria and constraints of microgravity.
Based on scientists' and student feedback, evaluate what they would
change and why.
is the attraction of all objects to one another due to their mass.
a student volunteer hold a pen or pencil in the air and then drop
it. Discuss with the class what observations they made when the
student volunteer let go of the pen/pencil. Have a second student
jump as high as possible. Discuss with the class what observations
they made when the student jumped. Then ask the students to explain
why the pen/pencil and the student fell quickly to the ground.
Discuss with students what causes things on
Earth to fall to the ground. Have the students share their ideas.
Explain that gravity is what pulls all objects on Earth toward the
center of the Earth.
Note to teacher: A formal definition of gravity is the
attraction of all objects to one another due to their mass.
International Space Station (ISS):
Space Station Fact Book
Facts and figures as well as current research that is being
done on the ISS.
Me At the Space Station-Overview
Background information about the International
Space Station and classroom activities for grades 4-8.
Human Spaceflight Web site
Current information about the International
Space Station, its crew, and the research they are conducting.
Construction: The International Space Station
Archived Webcasts/chats about the
preparation for the construction of the International Space Station.
Me at the Space Statio
Tour of the International Space Station,
the largest spacecraft ever built.
is very weak gravity (about one-millionth of what is felt on Earth)
caused when an object falls toward the Earth at a speed equal to
that caused by gravity alone (free fall).
Do this activity to help your students
Information to help students understand microgravity.
Background information and classroom activities
to help students understand microgravity.
This program demonstrates the actions of children's
toys in microgravity.
is a useful process of planning that allows people to come up with
workable solutions to everyday practical problems. It includes defining
a problem, generating ideas,selecting a solution, testing the solution,
making the item, evaluating it, and presenting the results.
the students design a piece of playground, exercise, or recreational
equipment to be used on Earth. Start out by giving the students
a few features and limits for their equipment. Examples of features
are: two to three people must be able to play on the equipment at
once; it must be made out of plastic; and it must be blue, green,
and red. Examples of limits are time, maximum size, available materials,
and space to use. Then discuss with the students what features and
limits they would like to add to the list. Decide as a class three
to four more features and three to four more limits to add. Have
the students work in small groups to design their equipment. Once
they have completed their designs, have the students present their
designs to the class. In their presentations, they should discuss
how they included the features and how they dealt with the limits,
as well as any problems they had during the design process and how
they dealt with them. Have the class provide feedback on each design,
focusing on good things the group did as well as things which the
group could improve.
size of a picture, plan, or model of a thing compared to the size
of the thing itself.
students do a scale drawing of themselves. First, have the students
find a partner and measure the height of their partner in feet and
inches. Once students know their height, explain to the students
that they are going to make a scale drawing in which one foot equals
one inch. It is a good idea to provide examples of this conversion.
Provide students with rulers and paper to make their scale drawing.
Have the students share their drawings when they are finished. Discuss
any difficulties the students had with drawing to scale. Explain
to students why making things to scale is so important. Note
to teacher: It is best to use the metric system when measuring,
but due to the difficulty of drawing things to scale we recommend
using the standard system for this activity.
Day 1 45 minutes Engage
Day 2-4 1 hour 15 minutes Design
and Construction Section of
Day 5-6 90 minutes Evaluation
and Improvement Section of
Day 7 45 minutes Presentations
and Tests Section of
Day 8 45 minutes Explain
Day 9 45 minutes Prior
to the Webcast/Chat
Day 10 60 minutes During
Day 11 30 minutes After
Day 12-13 90 minutes Extend
14 45 minutes Evaluate Section
- Class set of paper for equipment design
- Materials for constructing equipment: styrofoam,
plastic containers, wooden dowels, toothpicks, and straws (or other
- Class set of paper for blueprint for Extend Activity
Preparation for Webcast/Chat:
- See Chat
Lesson for preparation.
- Download the PDF file for information on how to
prepare for a Webcast/chat. Pay special attention to the Equipment,
Facilities, and Preparation information.
(approximately 45 minutes)
- Explain to the students that they are going to
do work for NASA and the International Space Station (ISS). Note
to teacher: If students are not familiar with the International Space
Station, use the links provided in the "Prerequisite Concepts" chart.
- Ask the students to describe what they think would
be different about living in the ISS compared to living on Earth. Note
to teacher: A comparison chart could be used with one column for living
in the ISS and one column for living on Earth.
- Questions to help discuss the differences between
living in the ISS and living on Earth:
- How do you think the amount of space in the ISS
compares with the amount of space in your home?
- What types of foods do you think the crew of the
- What problems may the crew of the ISS have to deal
- Do you have any of the same problems at home?
- What are the major differences between the crew
of the ISS and yourself?
(Misconception) The major difference is
that on Earth there is gravity, but in the ISS there is very weak gravity
(microgravity). Many students think that there is no gravity in space.
This is a common misconception. Your students can learn more about microgravity
by using the links provided in the "Prerequisite Chart.".
- Explain to students that they are going to design
and build a scale model of playground, exercise, or recreational equipment
that could be used in microgravity.
- Ask the students to think about a piece of playground,
exercise, or recreational equipment. Use the following questions to
lead a discussion about what can't be done in microgravity. List the
students' answers on the board. Note to teacher: The items listed
for what can't be done in microgravity are constraints.
- What can't you do in microgravity?
- What would be different in microgravity?
- What changes would you need to make to a piece
of recreational equipment that was going to be used in microgravity?
- Ask the students what they would want to be able
to do in microgravity. Then ask the students what they would want to
be able to do when they exercise in microgravity. List the students'
answers on the board in a separate column from the answers for what
they can't do in microgravity. Note to teacher: The items listed
for what the students want to be able to do in microgravity are criteria.
- Explain to the students that they just identified
criteria and constraints for exercising in microgravity. Tell the students
that there are criteria and constraints when designing anything.
- Ask the students to explain what they think it
means to have criteria and constraints. Then ask the students to identify
which items listed on the board are criteria and which items are constraints.
Note to teacher: The students should understand that criteria are
standards or requirements that the design must include. Examples of
criteria for a playground on Earth may be that it must be possible for
two to three people to play on at once,; it must be made out of plastic;
and must be blue, green, and red. Constraints are things that limit
the design. Examples of constraints are money, time, maximum size, available
materials, and space to use.
- Write the following list of characteristics on
the board. Explain that these are characteristics decided by NASA scientists.
Note to teacher: Do not write "criteria" or "constraint" next to
each characteristic. This information is only for you.
- The equipment must work in microgravity. (criteria)
Note to teacher: This can be tested by placing the equipment in water
and turning the equipment upside down.
- The equipment must be designed and constructed
in three class periods. (constraint)
- The materials that may be used are styrofoam, plastic
containers, wooden dowels, toothpicks, and straws. (constraint)
Note to teacher: You may want to have students bring in other
- The equipment must be designed and built so that
no parts fly around during use. (criteria)
- The equipment must be able to be used by one to
three people at the same time. (criteria) Note to teacher:
A person can be represented by using a popsicle stick with arms made
out of pipecleaners.
- The equipment must have a safety strap so that
the "person" is attached to the equipment at all times. (criteria)
- The equipment must work some of the "person's"
- The equipment must be designed and built so that
the "person" using the equipment is always safe. (criteria)
- The scale model of the equipment must be 18 cm
in diameter and 22 cm in length. (constraint) Note
to teacher: These measurements are a 1-25 ratio. The measurements are
from the Unity module of the ISS which is 457 cm in diameter and 549
cm in length.
Extension: Depending on grade level, the
students could be given the dimensions of the International Space Station
and asked to determine the measurements for a scale model that is :one
twenty-fifth the size of a portion of the ISS.
- Ask the students to read the list of characteristics.
Decide as a class which characteristics are criteria and which are constraints.
- Once the students have categorized the characteristics,
write the word "criteria" or "constraint" next to each one. Leave the
characteristics on the board for students to refer to later. Note
to teacher: If you have time, rewrite the characteristics so there is
one list of criteria and a separate list of constraints.
- Explain to students that NASA would like their
input on designing this equipment. Ask the students to brainstorm criteria
and constraints that they would like to have for their equipment and
why they would include these criteria and constraints. Explain to the
students that the criteria and constraints all have to be able to be
tested in some way. List the students' criteria and constraints on the
- From this list, decide two to three criteria and
two to three constraints that all of the students will have to include
on their equipment. Add these to the list of criteria and constraints
that the NASA scientists gave. Note to teacher: The number of criteria
and constraints that the students decide on for the equipment can be
- Explain to the students that NASA has hired you
as the students' supervisor during this design and construction process.
Explain that the NASA scientists are very busy and have asked that all
questions during this process be directed to the supervisor.
Design and Construction (approximately
1hour and 15 minutes)
Note to teacher: During the design and construction
of the equipment, the students can participate in Webchats/casts through
NASA Quest and ask questions of scientists about designing for microgravity.
They may find it helpful to ask questions about the challenges of designing
for microgravity and how these challenges have been overcome.
- Have the students work in small groups to brainstorm
ideas for the design of their equipment. Encourage the students to respect
each person's opinion.
- Once the students have chosen an idea or combination
of ideas to use for their design, they should make a blueprint of their
design. Their design should include the materials that students will
use to build the model. Their design should also have labels that show
how each criterion and constraint will be met in their equipment. The
students should explain the reasoning behind their design and how it
meets the criteria and constraints. This explanation can be written
on their design or done verbally. Note to teacher: The students should
explain how their design meets all of the criteria and constraints.
Two that are difficult to explain are how the equipment addresses microgravity
and what activities will be done on the equipment to work the person's
- Once this design is complete, the design should
be presented to the supervisor/teacher.
- The supervisor/teacher should review the design
and suggest any changes that he/she thinks are needed.
- Once the design has been approved, the students
can begin constructing the equipment, being sure to keep the criteria
and constraints in mind.
- When the students finish constructing their equipment,
have the students name it.
Extensions: Depending on grade level and
time available, the students could make a brochure that explains
the piece of equipment that they designed and built.
Evaluations and Improvements
(approximately 90 minutes)
- Once the students have completed their equipment,
pair up two groups of students. Have the two groups switch their blueprint
and model and evaluate each other's project so far.
- In this evaluation process, the groups should focus
on whether the equipment is constructed as it was designed, since this
is what the supervisor approved. They should also check to make sure
that all criteria are included, and that the equipment is being built
within the constraints specified. If the correct features are not included
or if they have not stayed within the constraints, the supervisor should
- Once the groups have had time to evaluate another
group's equipment, have the two groups share their evaluations with
- Once the groups have shared their evaluations,
discuss as a class what the students learned from the evaluation. Lead
a discussion using the following questions:
- What did you think of your equipment before sharing
with the other group?
- Did your opinion of your equipment change after
listening to the other group's evaluation?
- Do you see things that you could improve about
your equipment? Explain.
- Have the students work in their own groups to make
any modifications or improvements needed after being evaluated by a
group of peers. Note to teacher: Limit the time which students have
to modify or improve their equipment.
Presentations and Tests
(approximately 45 minutes)
- After making improvements, the students should
be ready to test their equipment.
- Have all students or groups of students explain
their equipment to the class. They should include the name of the equipment,
what features they included on their equipment, why they included the
features, what problems they had to solve during the design process,
and how they solved the problems.
- After a group presents its equipment, have the
students test the equipment to make sure it will work in microgravity.
Have the students turn their equipment upside down and then right side
up. No pieces should fall off of the equipment. Next, put the equipment
under water. The equipment should work under water. Note to teacher:
Depending on grade level, the students can test their own equipment,
a student from another group can test the equipment, or you can test
(approximately 45 minutes)
- Have the students explain the steps they went through
to design their equipment. Ask the students if they think scientists
follow similar steps.
- After the students have shared their ideas, explain
that the students followed a process very similar to that which scientists
use. Explain that the basic design process includes: defining a problem,
identifying criteria and constraints, generating ideas, selecting a
solution, testing the solution(s), making the item, evaluating it, improving
the design, and presenting the results.
- Discuss the following questions. Be sure to have
the students explain the reasoning behind their answers:
- What did you think about when trying to design
- Which designs worked when tested in "microgravity?"
Why did they work?
- Which designs did not work when tested in "microgravity?"
Why did they not work?
- What went well during the design of your equipment?
- What problems did you encounter during the design
- How well did your equipment meet the guidelines
set up by the class and by the supervisor?
- How could your equipment be improved?
- Was there more than one solution to the problem?
(Misconception) Students often do not
understand that all designs can be improved and that there are multiple
solutions to a problem. The questions listed above should facilitate
a discussion to help students deal with this misconception.
- Explain to students that when scientists design
things, the designs may appear to be perfect, but they can always be
improved. Scientists always model their design, test the design, evaluate
the design, and then change it to make it better. There is no perfect
design for anything; all designs can be improved.
- Have the students do a self-evaluation of their
equipment. This self-evaluation can be written or done verbally. Have
the students discuss what they would change about their design and why
they would change these things.
- Ask the students if they feel that their equipment
is good enough to be used on the International Space Station. Explain
to the students that during the Webcasts/chats they can discuss their
designs with scientists and learn how they could improve their designs
Prior to the Webcast/Chat:
(approximately 45 minutes)
Have the students become knowledgeable about the scientists
they will be talking to by reading their bios. Then discuss with the students
the main focus for the Webcast/chat. This can be found on the Event
Page. The Webcasts/chats will focus on engineering design for microgravity.
The students should be encouraged to ask scientists specific questions
about the designs for their equipment and whether they would work in microgravity.
Occupations Chat Lesson for specific information on how to prepare
students for the Webcast/chat.
During the Webcast/Chat: (60
Have students take notes on what special criteria
and constraints have to be taken into account when designing equipment
See NASA Occupations
Chat Lesson for specific information on participating in the Webcast
or chat and how to keep your students engaged during the Webcast/chat.
After the Webcast/Chat: (approximately
Discuss with students the information included in
Lead a discussion using the following questions:
- What did you learn about designing for microgravity?
- What can you not do when designing for microgravity?
- What would you change about your design based on
the feedback from scientists?
- Why would you change these things?
- What methods do scientists use to deal with the
- When designing and making your equipment, did you
have any of the same problems that the scientists do?
- What do scientists do when they have a problem?
Note to teacher: Modify discussion questions based
on information discussed during Webcast/chat.
See NASA Occupations
Chat Lesson for specific information on how to facilitate a follow-up
discussion after a Webcast/chat.
Extension: After getting feedback from scientists,
students could modify their design to make it better for use in microgravity.
(approximately 90 minutes)
- Discuss with students what common things they think
scientists would want in the International Space Station. List student
ideas on the board.
- Ask the students which of the items listed would
not have to be modified for microgravity. Mark these items off the list.
- Have the students review the list of items that
is left on the board.
- Explain to them that they are going to choose one
of these items listed and modify or design a new one that has the same
purpose as the original item.
- Have the students break up into pairs or small
groups. In these groups, the students should choose the item they will
modify for microgravity.
- Have the students brainstorm ways to modify (or
redesign) the item for microgravity and then choose the modification
(or design?) they think will work best.
- Have the students make a blueprint of their design.
The blueprint should include the materials the students would use, an
explanation of why they modified the item the way they did, and why
they think the design will work in microgravity.
(approximately 45 minutes)
- Evaluate the playground, exercise, or recreational
equipment that the students designed and constructed. Focus on the reasoning
behind the blueprint and model. Take into account how well the design
met the criteria and constraints as well as the students' self-evaluation
of why or why not the design would work in microgravity.
- Once the students have developed their blueprint,
have them share their blueprint with another group or with the entire
class. The other group or class should provide feedback on the blueprint,
focusing on whether this design will work in microgravity and how the
design could be improved.
Extension: Depending on grade level and time
available, the students could then modify their designs based on the
feedback from their classmates.
- Evaluate the blueprint from the Extend activity.
Focus on the reasoning behind the blueprint and how the students modified
the item for microgravity.