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Grade Level: Kindergarten to 3rd Grade

Standards: K-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity p.8 NGSS vol.1
ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
ETS1.A: Defining & Delimiting an Engineering Problem
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions
2-PS1: Matter and Its Interactions p.16
PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter – “different properties are suited to different purposes”
K-2-ETS1: Engineering Design p.23
ELA/Literacy p.132
W.K.2, SL.K.3, Sl.K.5

Content Area: math, science, art

Recommended Length/Duration: 30-40 minutes

Goals/Skills: students learn about the how canals work and why they are built, think about how things are moved, learn some basics of hydrodynamics and consider implications of large engineering projects.

(K-ESS3-3: Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.; K-2-ETS1-2: Develop a simple sketch, drawing or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.; 3-5-ETS1-1: Define a simple design problem reflection a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on material, time, or cost.)


  1. Draw a diagram on the board: two bodies of water at different elevations with a slope between them. Next to one of them, draw a forest, quarry, etc.
  2. Ask the class to think about how they would move resources from one body of water to the other, first by any means, then later by boat. Explain that the bodies of water are attached to rivers and lakes that allow long distance travel, but need to be connected.
  3. Ask the students to draw, on individual pieces of paper, their ideas for how to move boats up and down the hill. Tell them they can design anything they want to do this.
  4. (If Available) Show them the canal/lock model and demonstrate how water (as a liquid) can be released or restricted to move a boat up or down. The model can be used with or without water. Explain how locks can be used in cooperation to move boats up and down.
  5. Have to students revise their ideas and either post or draw them on the board.
  6. Each student briefly explains what their idea was and shows the group their design. Compare the ideas to existing canals, etc. and discuss difficulties or impacts of designs on the land/animals/people.

Have the students use their imaginations to create a system for moving boats up and down slopes. Let them revise their ideas as they learn more about how canals and locks work. Assessment for this age is based creative interaction with the concept and discussion. Pay attention to responses relating to effects of large engineering structures on society and the environment (K-ESS3-3)