Optional Teaching Supplies

Materials for this Unit

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Each unit includes a letter to send home with student for materials donation for the unit. Click here to download a copy of this letter in Spanish.

Additional Storybooks for Classroom Use

Storybooks introduce each unit with the tale of a child somewhere around the world who solves a problem through engineering. The books integrate literacy and social studies into the unit and illustrate for students the relevance of STEM subjects. 

Explore the Lessons

Students think about what technology is and are introduced to the idea that engineers design technologies.

Supporting Materials for this Lesson

What is Technology? / Grade 4 / Worcester, MA

Students think about what technology is and are introduced to the idea that engineers design technologies.

Extension Lessons

What are Extension Lessons?

Extension Lessons use EiE activities as a springboard to more directly reinforce other curricular concepts.

View all Extension Lessons »

Suman’s grandmother is sick, and the rainy season is coming. What if the river floods and cut off access to the medical clinic on the other side? Suman is relieved when he hears that his village in rural Nepal may get an innovative bridge called a TarPul. A geotechnical engineer for the project explains to Suman the importance of choosing a good location, where the soil will support the bridge and the risk of erosion is low. When Suman’s father disagrees with the engineer about the best place for the bridge, Suman uses what he’s learned to convince his father—for the sake of the village and his grandmother.

Download a PDF of our storybook illustrations.

Supporting Materials for this Lesson

Sample Classroom Video
TarPul Storybook / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L1

Reflection Questions

What literacy strategies do you see Laura using as she reads the storybook?

Laura asks children to predict and relate parts of the storybook to similar experiences they may have had. She also requires children to use evidence from the storybook to justify their answers to post-reading questions. 

  • Laura asks her students to predict what they think will happen in a chapter based on the title of that chapter.  (1:30)
  • Laura asks children to compare and contrast aspects of Suman’s experiences to their own experiences. At the beginning of the story Laura has children compare and contrast Suman’s home to their own home. (2:15) She later asks them to think about whether they have ever had to tell a relative or friend and tell something they didn’t want to hear (as Suman has to in the storybook). (7:00)
  • After reading the storybook, Laura has students play “Justified True and False,” which requires them to pull evidence from the storybook to support the answers they give. (8:00) 

Where do you see Laura previewing the engineering activities kids will be doing later on?

Laura uses several parts of the storybook to preview later engineering activities, creating familiarity that kids can build on later in the unit.

  • When they get to the core sample illustration in the storybook, Laura stops to talk about the image, ask children what they think that machine might be made of, and explain the model of that machine they will use in class to take core samples. (4:20)
  • Towards the middle of the story, when the author refers to earth in the playground being packed down, Laura stops to ask if children remember a previous mention of soil and earth being packed down. Whether soil is packed or loose will become an important variable for children during their design challenge. (5:00)
  • After wrapping up the story, Laura shows the model site children will use in Lesson 2 and relates it to a previous storybook discussion about how geotechnical engineers need to use technology to help them see into the ground. (11:00)
TarPul Storybook / Grade 5 / Bremerton, WA
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L1

Reflection Questions

What techniques does Desiree use to keep her students actively engaged in the lesson?

Desiree uses an interactive style to keep students' attention. Her students participate in the lesson through gestures, word fill-ins, and frequent turn and talk opportunities

  • When presenting the map of Nepal, Desiree has students informally call out whether they have heard of areas like the Himalayas, India, or China.  (2:21)
  • When thinking about how Suman felt in the story, Desiree has all the kids close their eyes and imagine his situation. (4:34)
  • Before collecting ideas from the whole class, Desiree has each student share their own ideas with a partner. (4:55 and 8:20)
  • After reading how a Tar-Pul travels along the cables, Desiree has the students demonstrate for her how their hands would move it. (6:12)
  • When reading directions from the worksheet, Desiree leaves out particular words so that her students can follow along and fill them in for her as she reads. (9:07)

How does Desiree incorporate visual literacy skills during Lesson 1?

Desiree promotes the use of graphic organizers to help her students structure and record important ideas. 

  • Desiree has each student make a circle map in their notebooks to help them generate ideas about what a geotechnical engineer might do for a job.  (0:51)
  • Desiree teaches the students how to make a flow map that illustrates the sequence of steps that are followed when taking a core sample. (6:37)
  • Desiree has students keep a table of contents in the front of their notebooks so that they can easily find pages later. (7:45)

Students think like geotechnical engineers as they take core samples of a model building site and decide how deeply the pier foundations for a model skyscraper should be anchored into the soil.

Supporting Materials for this Lesson

Sample Classroom Video
The Core of the Issue / Grade 5 / Bremerton, WA
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L2

Reflection Questions

What does Desiree do to make sure all students have some knowledge of earthquakes before beginning the lesson?

Desiree chooses a short animation that highlights some features of earthquakes that are relevant to this lesson.

  • The cut-away image she chooses shows layers of the Earth. (0:40)
  • The animation shows buildings shaking, cracking, and falling over. (0:45)
  • The animation provides a context for students so that they can better understand the earthquake model used in the unit. (1:03)

In this video, there is some variation in how Desiree and her students are moving the earthquake container. What are the differences and what effect does it have on the class results?

Although different groups conduct the tests slightly differently, the main learning goal of the lesson is not compromised. 

  • When doing her initial demonstration, Desiree instructs the students to move the container from back to front, not side to side. (1:18)
  • When one group is testing, we see them moving the container from side to side. (9:20)
  • Although difference in procedure may have accounted for some of the variability of  results for the clay layer, students still took away the main point of the activity—that the layers of the soil and the depth of the foundation play a role in a building’s stability. (9:59 and 10:29)
The Core of the Issue / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L2

Reflection Questions

What evidence do you see that Laura is reinforcing children’s confidence as geotechnical engineers?

When setting the context for the lesson, Laura calls students geotechnical engineers and speaks to them as if they are working on a real problem presented by a real company.

  • At the beginning of the lesson, Laura refers to the students as junior geotechnical engineers, reinforcing the idea that they should see themselves as engineers.  (0:40)
  • Laura also introduces the main problem of the lesson as if it is real—that the children will be actual engineers helping a real company. Again, this helps give children agency. (0:29–1:20)
  • At the end of the lesson, Laura says they are no longer junior engineers; they are now geotechnical engineering seniors. (14:30)

How do you see Laura using class discussions to help assess student understanding in this lesson?

Laura pauses at key points throughout the lesson to have students share ideas, which helps ensure students are sharing across groups. It also allows Laura to quickly assess ideas students are considering. 

  • Laura has the class pause in between taking the core sample and testing to have some groups share their recommendations for creating foundations. This helps her see how students are justifying their ideas. (8:55)
  • When groups share findings after testing, Laura asks why they think a certain layer of the model made the skyscraper more stable. This requires students to analyze possible reasons behind their results. (13:30)

Students use maps to study the erosion along a riverbank over time and conduct controlled experiments to determine how soil compaction around a foundation affects the foundation’s strength.

Supporting Materials for this Lesson

Sample Classroom Video
Selecting a Site (1) / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L3 Part 1

Reflection Questions

What strategies do you see Laura using to make sure all students are engaged during group discussion?

Laura has students use movements to indicate their responses to questions, and she has students ask questions of their peers. 

  • Instead of having students raise their hands to indicate their answer choice of straight or wavy, Laura has them use their arms to act out their answers. (4:05)
  • Laura has other students ask questions of peers, which gives them motivation to listen to what others are saying and promotes a culture of discussion within the class. (6:15/7:05)
Selecting a Site (2) / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L3 Part 2

Reflection Questions

How do you see Laura reinforce her student’s use of the Engineering Design Process (EDP)?

At the end of the lesson, Laura asks students to think about which step of the EDP they just completed and how they accomplished this.  

  • After students have completed the activity, Laura guides them to think about how Suman completed the Ask step in the storybook. Then she asks students to think about how they have completed the Ask step through Lessons 2 and 3 in their own classroom. (10:20)
  • Finally, Laura has students think ahead to the next step they’ll use (Imagine) and explains that they’ll be imagining different types of soil to use. All of this helps root students’ work in the EDP. (11:15)
Selecting a Site (1) / Grade 5 / Bremerton, WA
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L3 P1

Reflection Questions

Where do you see Desiree incorporating cooperative learning strategies that encourage students to share their thinking and work together as they learn?

Desiree relies on variations of the turn and talk strategy to help keep students engaged and give them time to express their own ideas.  

  • Desiree has each group take a minute to discuss their initial ideas about which sites would be good for building the TarPul. (1:35)
  • After asking whether rocky or organic soil would make better TarPul sites, Desiree says, “Don’t tell me, tell your partners,” and encourages them to tell each other why. (5:40)

Desiree does a nice job of building knowledge about the changing shape of the rivers, the reason for the changes, and their implications for situating a TarPul. How does she make these connections?

Desiree’s instruction allows students to describe for themselves how rivers have changed over time and think about what might happen over time to a TarPul built on a certain site. 

  • Desiree is very explicit about the fact that the two images she shows are of the same river at different points in time. (3:09)
  • After overlaying one map upon the other, she has students describe to her what has changed. (3:29)
  • Desiree’s students then attribute the development of sharper turns in the river to erosion. (4:00)
  • Desiree asks students to think specifically about what would have happened in 1974 to a TarPul built in 1920. (4:12)
Selecting a Site (2) / Grade 5 / Bremerton, WA
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L3 P2

Reflection Questions

In the beginning of this lesson, Desiree showed her students images of TarPuls from the internet. How do these images help prepare students for the challenge?

Desiree shows TarPuls in different locations and calls attention to the types of soil that anchor the TarPuls. 

  • Desiree shows five different TarPuls—one going over water, one attached to a mountain, one hanging very low to the ground—and the images help students realize that the TarPul they saw in the storybook is only one version of this technology. (0:48–1:30)
  • As a way to start thinking about the best type of soil for anchoring, Desiree makes a point of asking students about the type of soil anchoring the TarPuls in the pictures. (1:13)

As students conduct their soil experiments, how does Desiree address the importance of controlling variables?

Desiree reviews the purpose of multiple trials, the role of averaging, and the importance of consistency. 

  • By introducing the “place mat” idea for the soil tubs, Desiree underscores the importance of consistency between trials. (2:34)
  • After reviewing the procedure, Desiree asks students to identify the only variable that should change during the tests—the soil type. (3:56)

Students focus on the geotechnical engineering problem of evaluating a landscape as they imagine, plan, create, test, and improve a site for a wire cable bridge called a TarPul.

Supporting Materials for this Lesson

Sample Classroom Video
Evaluating a Landscape / Grade 5 / Bremerton, WA
Click here for a more in-depth look

EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L4

Reflection Questions

What do you notice about the way Desiree interacts with student groups?

Desiree delivers individualized instruction in each small group and pushes student thinking in an informal, non-threatening way. 

  • Kneeling beside one table, Desiree walks students through the process of measuring map distances and quantifying the advantages and disadvantages of individual sites. (2:35)
  • Desiree helps one group calculate various scores based on the individual data they collected.  (5:10)
  • When reviewing a draft of the letter to the elders, Desiree acts like a friendly participant in the group. Her style and language helps students to recognize and include relevant information in their texts. (7:32)


What are some advantages of using the iPod during this lesson?

Use of the iPod provides unique motivation and increases technological literacy skills. 

  • Students using the iPod are practicing high-tech skills as they locate, open, and operate the video app. (6:40)
  • Using the iPod to video tape messages for the village elders provides extra motivation for students to write interesting and persuasive letters. (6:51)
  •  Having students watch themselves on video provides new opportunities for them to self-evaluate and get feedback on their work (8:19).


Evaluating a Landscape (1) / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L4 P1

Reflection Questions

What evidence do you see of children understanding and assessing trade offs?

By lesson 4, Laura’s students are able to artfully discuss the variables they are trying to balance, and support their ideas with data and information gathered in earlier lessons. 

  • During group discussions after imagining, students are able to justify their choices with specifics such as: “It is close to the school and clinic and it’s on a straight part of the river,” (7:15), or comment on negatives such as: “But it’s organic soil, so it’s weak.” We also hear students referring back to the storybook and discussing whether Ajee would be able to reach farther sites if she is sick (9:25). Another group discusses erosion in terms of whether the size of the rocks in rocky soil would matter. (8:40)
  • During class shareout, groups are able to justify the site they chose while still recognizing and pointing out the site’s disadvantages. (11:05)
  • We also see students understanding why the site the village elders would prefer is not the best choice (it’s curved). (11:36)

What are some benefits of conducting a table tour to share plans as opposed to a whole-group share out?

Table tours provide a more active and engaging way for students to learn about each other's work. 

  • Students are able to look closely at each other’s work and discuss what they see with their own team. (13:40)
  • This setup also allows students to get up and move around, which can be more engaging than sitting and listening to others share. (13:50)
Evaluating a Landscape (2) / Grade 3 / Louisville, KY
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EiE - A Stick in the Mud: Evaluating a Landscape, L4 P2

Reflection Questions

What evidence do you see that children are weighing the impacts of variables as they make decisions about improvement ideas?

When talking about the improvement ideas students are clearly thinking about the scoring system and how changes they make might be reflected in their total points. We also see some interesting discussions about trade-offs. 

  • When discussing improvement ideas we see students talking about tradeoffs for changes they will make. For example, one group mentions that if they use an area with rocky soil instead of organic soil so they won’t need to do any compaction since that type of soil will hold the dowel more firmly. (11:00)
  • When reporting out to the class, we see one team explaining how they took three points off their score. They are able to differentiate that it was partially due to increasing weight it could carry and partially due to lessening the amount of soil compaction. (12:40)