Planning—Engineering Ideas

Summary: Many people live in places that experience floods from rivers, and more people are likely to experience flooding as a consequence of rising sea level. In this topic guide, students brainstorm ways people living near the coast might respond to rising sea level. They are then challenged to design and build a model of a flood-resistant home for a flood-prone community.

Concepts to teach:

  • Crosscutting Concepts
    • Structure and Function, Cause and Effect
  • Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • ETS1.A – Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
    • ESS3.B – Natural Hazards
  • Science Practices
    • Asking questions and defining problems, Developing and using models, Constructing explanations and designing solutions


  1. People who live near the coast will have to adapt to impacts from rising sea level.
  2. Adaptation strategies might include relocating homes and communities
  3. Some communities can use engineering solutions to respond to sea level rise

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 4-ESS3-2. Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Identify different ways coastal communities might react to sea level rise
  2. Design a model structure that could resist flooding
  3. Describe how particular features of a model address a problem

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Activity: Use ideas from the Beat the Flood design challenge to provide a scenario for students to create and build a structure that would withstand a flood.
    • Consider identifying a real coastal community or structure that is at risk for flooding from sea level rise and/or storm surges and using it as the backdrop for the challenge.
    • Decide with or for the students what a successful model design should be able to do and clearly share these design criteria with the students. You can use or make a stream table in which designs can be tested to see if they can remain stable and dry under controlled flood conditions.
    • Provide constraints to the the challenge in terms of materials available (paper, sticks, glue, tape, etc) and the time allowed to build the model. Optional: Assign costs to different materials.
    • Provide opportunities for iteration, improving designs, etc.
    • Collect data on the performance of student structures. Which designs best met the criteria? Identify designs that were most creative, used the least amount of material, were more attractive, etc.


  • Students present their designs and explanations to each other in a classroom “Model Home Expo”