This is a great pity, as it is forecast that in the next ten to twenty years, the largest job demand growth will be in the technology fields. One of the most effective interventions to prepare students for this job market is hands-on 3rd-Grade engineering projects!
1. Circle Paper Planes
Unlike building classic paper planes, this 3rd-grade engineering project teaches kids how to build circular gliders using paper and straws. These gliders fly well in a straight line and can be used to investigate many engineering concepts.
2. DIY Spectroscope
Give your 3rd-graders the chance to investigate the properties of light with this DIY spectroscope. A spectroscope is an instrument used to split light into different wavelengths. These wavelengths are visible as the different colors of the rainbow.
3. Air Vortex Cannon
An air vortex can be a powerful force in nature. Generally, we can’t see a vortex, unless there is dust or smoke in the air. This air cannon allows your 3rd-graders to see the effects of an air vortex.
4. Articulated Grabber
This articulated reach-extender is a great way of introducing your 3rd-graders to different engineering staples, like hinges and pulleys.
5. Bottle Rockets
Using basic chemical reactions, your 3rd-graders can engineer their very own bottle rockets. While this project is a bit messy, it will definitely get your 3rd-graders interested in engineering!
6. Building Gumdrop Structures
Gumdrop structures — structures built using gumdrops and toothpicks — are a great way to introduce your 3rd-graders to engineering. They can be abstract sculptures, domes, simple shapes, bridges, etc. You can look up some real-life structures and challenge your 3rd-graders to reproduce them using gumdrops.
7. Goldfish Pulley System
Using recycled cardboard parts, make a three-wheeled pulley system to tote your snacks around. The different wheel configurations can be changed, and your 3rd-grader will get a sense of how easily a pulley system makes things move.
8. Simple Machines for Kids: The Pulley
An even simpler way to introduce your 3rd-graders to a pulley system using stuff you have lying around the house. In this example, the problem was how to get objects up and down the stairs with minimal effort.
9. Balloon Powered Car
Introduce your 3rd-graders to the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, conservation of energy, and Newton’s laws of motion by helping them make their own balloon-powered cars!
10. Windmill Model
A windmill is a simple machine that demonstrates the principle of a wheel and axle mechanism. In this printable model, your 3rd-graders will get to assemble and examine their very own windmill.
11. Balancing Apple Project
Explore the concepts of balance and gravity in this simple balancing engineering project for 3rd-graders.
12. Wind Turbine Design
When wind turbines were first introduced, they seemed like the ideal green energy source. We have since learned about some of the negative impacts of wind turbine design on wildlife, especially birds. In this project, 3rd-graders will experiment with different wind turbine designs and see which design is most bird-friendly.
13. Energy Transformation
Much of engineering is concerned with energy transformation. In this project, 3rd-graders are challenged to design and build a contraption that does useful work using motion generated by something that is already using energy, like someone walking or riding a bike.
14. Foil Boats
To explore the concept of buoyancy, your 3rd-graders can engineer simple foil boats. See how many pennies you can add to your boat before it sinks. Can you change your design so that you are able to add more pennies?
15. Pneumatic Machine
Building a simple pneumatic machine is a slightly more involved 3rd-grade engineering project. This project uses compressed air in a syringe to power the motion of the machine.
16. Ball Launcher and Receiver
In this project, your 3rd-grader will build a launcher device to launch a ball as far as possible, and a receiver to catch it. Building a receiver provides an extra twist to a traditional catapult project.
17. Moving Water With an Archimedes Screw Pump
In this project, 3rd-graders will build a very simple pump, called an Archimedes screw, to move water from a low-lying location to a higher location.
18. Marble Run
No list of engineering projects would be complete without a marble run! Marble runs are an easy and fun way to explore concepts of gravity and friction. This version uses cardboard tubes for a cheap and easy introduction to the project.
19. Land Ice vs Sea Ice
Investigate the rising sea levels wit this activity from NASA involving clear plastic food-storage containers and ice cubes.
20. DIY Xylophone
This project is ideal for your aspiring 3rd-grade sound engineer. Using water in glass jars, your 3rd-grader can create any number of musical notes. If you add water to your jar, the sound will be of a lower pitch, while less water equals a higher pitch.
21. Rubber Bands for Energy
How much energy does a rubber bank have? In this experiment, your 3rd-graders will find out how the stretching of a rubber band affects the amount of energy it produces.
22. Build a kite
A kite is a great 3rd-grade engineering project as it demonstrates how forces act on an object. A kite is acted upon by the wind, the string, and gravity.
23. Paper Engineering
There are a host of paper engineering challenges that you could set for your 3rd-graders. You could get your students to build a structure that will hold a book 6 inches off the ground, or a structure that will hold an egg 2 feet off the ground. You can challenge them to build a bridge from table to table, or perhaps the highest free-standing structure they can manage.
25. Paper Building Blocks
You could get your 3rd-graders to build basic paper building blocks and get them to come up with their own problems to solve.
26. Buildable Rock Slime
This rock slime mimics cement and holds its shape really well. Your 3rd-graders will love making it and building things with it.
27. DIY Stethoscope
A stethoscope is a good way of introducing 3rd-graders to sound waves and the transfer of energy. This project uses aquarium tubing and PVC pipe to make a simple stethoscope.
28. Build a Basic Circuit
For the very basics of electrical engineering, start your third grader off with a project that allows you to build a basic circuit. To increase the difficulty a bit, introduce the idea of a series and parallel circuit, and get your 3rd-grader to demonstrate the difference and examine some of the pros and cons.
29. Fruit Stand Circuits
To make electrical circuits a bit more colorful, try adding fruit into your circuits! This is a good way to address the conceptual understanding of how electricity travels through a circuit since lemons do not fit our intuitive model of a battery. The ‘problem’ being solved in this project is a bit artificial, but I am sure your 3rd-grader will be excited to push the boundaries of the project – how many lemons does it take to power an LED? Does other fruit work as well? What if I wanted to use an electric filament light bulb?
30. Can Cellphones Survive a Drop Test
Using calculators, perform a drop test to detect vulnerable areas. 3rd-graders will then use this input to design cellphone cases that improve the durability of the calculator (as measured by its performance in a drop test).
31. Design a Cellphone Stand
This project requires students to create their own design brief. What will the cellphone stand be used for? How durable does it need to be? What materials are best suited to this project? A cellphone stand might seem like a simple project, but a lot of thought needs to go into designing one. You can build a prototype out of craft/office supplies.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an engineering project and a science project?
Engineers use scientific concepts (like physics and chemistry). However, these scientific concepts are put to work to solve problems, which is the essence of engineering. Engineering apps also often encourage students to think like an engineer, which includes building prototypes and adjusting their designs after experimentation.