Help! Help! I Can’t Get Down!

By Robin Little, October 7, 2007

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two 30 minute teaching blocks and one 45 minute work session


In this activity, students will engage in active problem solving as they create a way to transport a stuffed animal character from a high place to a low place using only materials provided or found within their classroom.  They will work in collaborative partnerships, generate design ideas, and build, test, and share their design solutions.

National Standards


Standard 10.
  Understands forces and motion
2.  Knows that things near the Earth fall to the ground unless something holds them up
4.  Knows that the position and motion of an object can be changed by pushing or pulling


Standard 1.  Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
1.  Draws pictures to represent problems

Language Arts

Standard 8.  Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
1.  Makes contributions in class and group discussions (e.g., reports on ideas and personal knowledge about a topic, initiates conversations, connects ideas and experiences with those of others)
2.  Follows rules of conversation and group discussion (e.g., takes turns, raises hand to talk, stays on topics, focuses attention on speaker) 


Standard 4.  Understands the nature of technological design
1.  Knows that materials and equipment can be combined in different ways to make something new (e.g., building a tent using a sheet around a table, using molding clay to make pretend food)
2.  Knows ways to communicate design ideas (e.g., pictures, models)
3.  Knows that people are always inventing new ways to solve problems and accomplish work (e.g., a computer is a machine that helps people work and play)
4.  Knows that planning is an important part of the design process
6.  Knows that because there may be multiple solutions to a design problem, each appropriate to different situations, many creative ideas can be useful
5.  Knows that new objects can be created out of physical materials (e.g., paper, cloth)

Working With Others

Standard 1.  Contributes to the overall effort of a group
1.  Knows the behaviors and skills that contribute to team effectiveness
2.  Works cooperatively in a group to complete tasks, achieve goals, and solves problems
1.  Demonstrates respect for others' rights, feelings, and point of view in a group
8.  Evaluates the overall progress of a group toward a goal

Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5.
  Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
1.  Identifies simple problems and possible solutions (e.g., ways to make something work better)


The students will be able to:

  • apply their knowledge of air concepts, force and motion, and means of air transportation to a new situation.
  • generate multiple ideas that meet the design criteria.
  • reach consensus with their partner on the best design alternative.
  • work cooperatively with their partners to build, test, and share their design. 




  • Old Bear by Jane Hissey (if copy is available)
  • several stuffed animals, including a bear


  • various types of paper (e.g., tissue, newspaper, construction, oak tag, copy paper, etc.)
  • scraps of fabric
  • string or yarn
  • craft sticks or small wooden dowels
  • various adhesives (e.g., glue, scotch tape, masking tape)
  • various size cardboard tubes (e.g., toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls, wrapping paper tubes)
  • various types of blocks (e.g., big blocks, wooden unit blocks, foam blocks, inch cubes)
  • crayons
  • scissors


  • gravity - a natural force pulling together two masses
  • force - a push or a pull
  • problem - a question or situation which needs to be answered or solved
  • design challenge - students engage in the design process to solve a proposed problem
  • design limitations - the boundaries or criteria established to work within when solving the design challenge
  • plan - ideas or drawings created toward solving a problem
  • design - selecting the best idea and building a model of solution
  • check - trying the model to see if it does stay within the design limitations and solves the design challenge
  • redesign - if problems occurred with the design solution, students examine why the design didn't work and work together to fix the design
  • share - showing the final design solution as well as the strategies and redesigns with classmates




Set-up directions:  Gather the suggested materials and place in clear sight of the students.

Day 1(30 minute teaching block):
The teacher reads the story, Old Bear, to the students, stopping at the point where Old Bear is caught up in the attic and needs to find a way home.  (If the book is not available, make up a story about some animal friends who were playing and one got caught up somewhere high and needs a way down.)  Be sure to have some stuffed animals present and part of the interaction.

Ask the students to identify the problem.  Lead the children in a discussion about what would happen if Old Bear fell down.  Include the concepts of gravity and force in the discussion. 

Inform the children that they will be given the opportunity to solve Old Bear's problem by working with a partner in a design challenge.  Repeat the problem (Old Bear can't get down) and design challenge (find a way to get Old Bear down following the design criteria).  Explain the design criteria to the children.  These would include being limited to the amount of time given as well as the materials provided or readily found in the classroom.  Tell them that they will be working with partners to create a solution to Old Bear's problem.  Allow a brief time for the partners to have a chance to look at the provided materials and brainstorm some quick ideas.  Tell them they will have time to work more on their solutions the next day.

Day 2 (45 minute work session):
Briefly review the design challenge and limitations with the students.  Allow time for partners to talk about their ideas.  Encourage them to decide upon one idea to try.  Then provide them with some paper and crayons.  Have them draw a blueprint of their plan (idea).  Once they have designed a plan, encourage them to get the materials they selected and begin creating their solution.  Throughout their work time, circulate throughout the room.  Ask each partnership various questions to stimulate their verbalization about what they are doing.  Encourage their continued work as you keep them informed about how much time they have left to work.  At the end of the work session, have the students move their design solutions to a specified location in the room until the next day.

Day 3 (30 minute teaching block):
Have the students set up their design solutions.  Allow each partnership time to share their solution.  If solutions can be tested, allow time for students to try to rescue Old Bear using their design solution (some might be models and not big enough to actually test).  Have the other students discuss the individual solutions and ask questions or suggest other ideas that could be added or changed.  Be sure to include the concepts of gravity and force whenever possible in the discussions. 

Once each group has had a chance to share, ask the students if they would like to finish reading the book, Old Bear, to see if the author got Old Bear down and how she did it (if you told a story, then tell some ways Old Bear could have gotten down that might have been different from anything that was shown).


  • teacher observation

  • student self-assessment

  • teacher assessment

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Propose a design challenge where instead of finding a design that helps someone get down from somewhere, it helps them get up to another place or level.
  • Find real world situations where similar design challenges have been met, such as a firefighter rescuing someone in a burning house.  Discuss what materials and designs were used.

Teacher Reflection

  • Working cooperatively at this age level are skills that are still developing and the students will need many more experiences.
  • Most partnerships were able to come up with some design solutions that had potential to solve the problem.  They need lots more design challenges to practice using the steps in the design process.
  • Students need continued opportunities to evaluate themselves. 
  • Connecting the design challenge to a piece of literature was highly successful because the students were able to identify with the story characters and wanted to help them.
  • I might provide some additional experiences next time prior to this lesson where the students would see parachutes and airplanes in action or know how to make them.  It might make these a more viable option in the minds of the students.

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