How to Teach Design Solutions for Weather-Related Hazards

Teaching design solutions for weather-related hazards? First, get your third grade students up to speed on needs, criteria, and constraints. Second, present some photos with problem-solution text. Third, kids will analyze the situation and decide if it’s a good match. Finally, they’ll make a claim and support it with reasons. What a fabulous, age-appropriate opinion writing opportunity!

Our favorite third grade teacher tapped her pencil on the table. “Check out this earth science standard,” she said to her teaching partner.

NGSS 3-ESS3-1 Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of a weather-related hazard.

“How will we even get started on this?” asked Mr. Jones.

Breaking Down the Standard

Ms. Sanchez sighed. Then she began jotting down some ideas as she talked through it.

“To make a claim, they first need to analyze a design solution. Then they form an opinion.

“Furthermore, the situation must be something that addresses a weather-related hazard. Hmm.”

As his teaching partner talked, Mr. Jones busily searched on his laptop. Suddenly, he exclaimed, “Look at this!”

As Ms. Sanchez looked on, he scrolled through a ready-to-teach resource.

Defining a Problem

“First, the teacher displays this anchor chart. To explain, they use the need for a toy box.” He pointed to the scenario laid out for the teacher:

  • What are the criteria? In other words, what does my toy box have to do, have or be? I’ve decided that the toy box must fit in my closet, which is three feet wide and two feet deep. Additionally, I don’t want it to be any taller than two feet so small children can reach the toys. My toy box has to be sturdy and blue to match the room.
  • What are the constraints? Basically, the constraints tell how much time, money, and/or resources I’m willing to spend. I only have a weekend to build the toy box, and I’m willing to spend $40 on materials.

“That’s super helpful,” Ms. Sanchez commented. “To be honest, I’ve never taught kids to define an engineering design problem.”

Before kids evaluate weather-related hazards, teach them about needs, criteria, and constraints.
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Discriminating Between Criteria and Constraints

“Second,” continued Mr. Jones, “students use this worksheet to identify criteria and constraints. Let’s try one together:

  • I don’t have a lot of money. The solution must be inexpensive. Criterion or constraint?”

“Let’s see. A criterion is something the solution must do, have, or be. That’s it. The solution must be inexpensive.”

“Think again,” her teaching partner said. “A constraint is a limitation, such as limited money or time. Sure, the solution must be inexpensive. That, however, is because money is limited. It’s a constraint.”

Ms. Sanchez blushed and chuckled. “See? I told you I needed guidance on this!”

This worksheet lets kids practice discriminating between criteria and constraints before they evaluate design solutions.

“Once kids understand how to define a problem,” Mr. Jones continued, “they read about specific design solutions for weather-related hazards.”

The two teachers studied one of the scenarios. A picture of some ice traction cleats appeared at the bottom of the page. At the top, a section defined a problem related to a weather-related hazard. Beneath that, the possible design solution was spelled out.

  • Problem: Carolyn lives in northern Wisconsin. In the winter, snow and ice cover the ground. She wants to walk outdoors without falling, but she doesn’t want to buy new boots. Carolyn wants to spend less than $40, and she must get her purchase within one week.
  • Solution? These metal ice traction cleats attach to your boots or shoes. They allow people to walk and run on snow and ice without  falling. They cost $32.00 plus $4 overnight shipping.

“So our kids would see if the solution meets the criteria and constraints?” Ms. Sanchez asked.

“Right. In this case, the hazard is slipping on the ice. Carolyn doesn’t want to buy new boots or spend over $40. Furthermore, the solution must arrive within a week.”

“Ahh, I see. The solution addresses all of these criteria and constraints. The cleats attach to your boots, cost less than $40 with shipping, and will arrive overnight.”

To address the third grade NGSS standard, give kids a one-page description of a weather-related hazard and its design solution. Here, for example, they learn about ice traction cleats that prevent you from slipping.

Evaluating the Design Solutions & Writing

“You’re catching on,” said Mr. Jones as he flipped to the related worksheet. “The kids will list the criteria and constraints. Then they will write yes or no to indicate whether they are addressed satisfactorily.

“At the bottom of the page, they’ll write a claim about the merit of the design solution. In other words, if it will work. Then they’ll list their reasons.”

“Awesome. Claims and evidence. Opinion and reasons. This follows the format we use for argumentative writing.”

“Right again. After our students complete this page, they’re ready to write an opinion paragraph. It makes a great interdisciplinary lesson. Furthermore, the set offers several more scenarios: a lightning rod, sandbags, and a breakwall. Some, but not all, meet the criteria and constraints.”

After kids analyze a design solution for a weather-related hazard, they'll use a graphic organizer to list their claim and supporting reasons. From this, they can write opinion paragraphs.

Enjoy Teaching

Once again, Ms. Sanchez began tapping her pencil. “I’m super excited to do this! We can even use it in our ELA block to save time. When can we get started?”

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