PictureSTEM: Designing Paper Baskets

PictureSTEM: Tamara Moore and Kristina Tank Kristina M. Tank, Tamara J. Moore, Christy Pettis, Elizabeth Gajdzik
Type Category
Instructional Materials
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this unit, students must identify and define a problem posed in a real-life, probable scenario. They conduct research, design and test probable solutions to the problem, and engage in literacy, math, and engineering activities in order to solve the identified problem - to design a paper basket that can hold both wet and dry rocks.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Early Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are presented with a scenario and asked to define the problem it poses: how to make a strong enough basket that can carry a rock collection. Students are encouraged to seek answer to questions they have about the strength of paper. They conduct tests and compare different strengths to gather evidence needed to create a paper basket design of their own that can more efficiently hold the weight of a rock collection. However, the instructor needs to follow through with all the lessons in the unit in order to accomplish this.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are asked to define the problem posed in a given scenario. Once they clearly define the problem they must use an engineering design process to develop a simple tool that can help solve the problem. The instructor should allow ample time for students to both develop and and seek answers to their questions which may require longer lesson sessions.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Once students define the problem, they develop questions to that can help clarify the criteria they need to meet in their designs. Students gather information from literature that establishes a real need for the solution, and provides background information in order for them to choose materials and test their ideas before they create their final design. The instructor should allow ample time for students to develop their own questions and should be guided through collecting evidence in order to develop their designs. Using graphic organizers and sentence starters could be helpful.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students spend several lessons in this unit exploring patterns in general and developing the idea that certain weaving patterns are stronger than others. They test the strength and durability of their chosen patterns in order to gather evidence they can use to develop a paper basket that can hold both wet and dry rocks. To incorporate the full crosscutting concept, add an extension activity that gives students the opportunity to see how structure and function are related in the natural world, i.e. bird nests, spider webs, etc.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: In order to fully meet the expectations of 3-dimensional learning, students should have more experience with the phenomena addressed. While the lessons give ample opportunity for students to develop the Disciplinary Core Idea, Practice, and Crosscutting Concept through the engineering design process, it may benefit from having students identify similar phenomena in nature. An extension lesson on how animals use weaving patterns in nests could be one example.

  • Instructional Supports: The scenario posed in the beginning of the unit and the literature used, create a strong purpose for the design solution and easily allow students to connect to real-life contexts. There are multiple opportunities for students to ask questions, define problems and solutions, and engage in testing their ideas to gather evidence for their proposed designs. The students could be allowed more time to explore the phenomena in their testing activities and adding connection to the phenomena in nature could strengthen this element of 3-dimensional learning. The lessons allow students to express their learning in a variety of ways and incorporate writing, visual representations and several read-alouds that enable students of varying ability to participate.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: In addition to the Instructional support comments which justify this rating, all materials are presented in an accessible and unbiased way. The literature used and the setup of the lessons are developmentally appropriate for this age level. Teachers benefit from the extensive side notes, handouts, and guidance on formative and summative assessment of the students' work.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students do not engage with interactive technology in this unit.