Educational Resources Lets Talk Science Challenge participants

Water falling on plants

Water falling on plants (annawaldi, Pixabay)

Design & Build an Irrigation System

Let's Talk Science
Format
Text,  Images
Biology,  Science,  Technology & Engineering
Needs of Plants
Testing Designs

Summary

Students will work collaboratively to design and build a simple irrigation system that transports water to at least two plants from one source without leaking.

Overview

Students design, build and test a simple irrigation system that will transport water to at least two plants from one source without leaking.

Timing
45-60 minutes

Setting the Stage

Prior Skills and Knowledge

To successfully participate in this Design & Build, students should be able to:

  • work with basic cutting tools (e.g., scissors), fasteners (e.g., tape) and materials (e.g., plastic) 
  • have an understanding of the basic needs of plants
  • understand that people and technology can assist in making sure that plants get what they need to grow and thrive.

Context

Hundreds of seedlings begin to grow in greenhouses in the middle of the cold winter months. In the spring, people can purchase these seedlings in the spring and take home to their gardens to plant. 

Greenhouses can have hundreds or thousands of plants. Watering them can take a very long time! Outside of the summer months, a greenhouse may be operated by just a few people. These people need a system for efficiently watering the plants.

Garden sprinkler
Garden sprinkler (Source: Esther Merbt via Pixabay).

 

Travelling irrigation sprinkler
Travelling irrigation sprinkler (Source: Slaunger [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

 

When faced with a Design & Build challenge, students need to consider a variety of possible solutions. Brainstorming is a way of generating ideas that requires students to be respectful listeners and creative thinkers. This kind of collaborative thinking and sharing requires a classroom environment that encourages and supports risk-taking and innovative thinking.

In this Design & Build challenge, students will design, build and test a simple irrigation system that will transport water to at least two plants from one source without leaking.

This design and build could begin from:

  • questions and/or comments from students about water and plants. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What kinds of tools do people use to give water to indoor plants?”
    • "What kinds of tools do people use to give water to outdoor plants?
    • “Why do plants need water?”
  • exploring photos or videos of different types of irrigation systems and technologies from around the world. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What are some methods that farmers use to provide water to plants?
    • “How do these methods compare and contrast to the ways in which you provide water to your home garden or indoor plants?”
  • reading a book such as The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What do you need to grow a garden?”
    • “How do those needs change depending on where you are growing your garden (e.g., on a window sill vs. outside)?”
  • Show students before and after photographs of the High Line, a park in New York City built on an old rail line. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What is different about these two photos?”
    • “Do you think this is a good place for a garden? Why/why not?”
Left High Line, 1936 and right High Line, 2010
Left: High Line, 1936 and right: High Line, 2010 (Source: Gryffindor [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons and Beyond My Ken [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons).

Design Criteria

As a class, students brainstorm criteria that their prototype irrigation system must meet. Educators may choose to add other criteria that are curriculum-specific, such as using joiners/fasteners, specific measurements, specific materials, etc.

Design criteria examples:

  • Design a model irrigation/watering system that waters at least two plants at the same time
  • The water should come from one starting point
  • The system must have no leaks
  • Use only the materials provided

Details

Materials
  • Pencils
  • Drinking straws, various diameters
  • Plastic drinking cups, various sizes
  • Duct tape
  • Construction tools such as scissors, other fasteners, and glue
  • Measuring tools such as rulers, metre sticks, measuring tapes and/or stopwatch
  • Recording tools such as pencils, erasers, paper, science notebooks, cameras or handheld electronic devices
  • Access to water
  • Rags or paper towels for cleaning up spills
  • Optional – large garbage bags to build system on, or plastic table cloths
Materials
  • Pencils
  • Drinking straws, various diameters
  • Plastic drinking cups, various sizes
  • Duct tape
  • Construction tools such as scissors, other fasteners, and glue
  • Measuring tools such as rulers, metre sticks, measuring tapes and/or stopwatch
  • Recording tools such as pencils, erasers, paper, science notebooks, cameras or handheld electronic devices
  • Access to water
  • Rags or paper towels for cleaning up spills
  • Optional – large garbage bags to build system on, or plastic table cloths
Preparation
  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the irrigation systems.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternately, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
     
Preparation
  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the irrigation systems.
  • Set up material sourcing stations, organized by type of material. Alternately, organize an assortment of materials to be provided to each student or work group.
     
What to Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype irrigation system.

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to select a potential solution to test
  • visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations
  • develop a design plan (e.g., identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution, make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed, include labelled sketches)
  • build/develop the design idea based on the design plan 
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • reflect on their results and identify things that could be done to improve their prototypes
     
What to Do

Students develop Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype irrigation system.

Students will follow the steps of the Design & Build process:

  • identify the problem to be solved/need to be met
  • brainstorm criteria that the prototype must meet
  • share their questions and ideas for a solution to the problem/need
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to select a potential solution to test
  • visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations
  • develop a design plan (e.g., identify the tasks or key steps involved in developing the solution, make decisions about tools and materials that will be needed, include labelled sketches)
  • build/develop the design idea based on the design plan 
  • test their prototypes based on the design criteria
  • modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary
  • reflect on their results and identify things that could be done to improve their prototypes
     
Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively –  students work collaboratively to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas –  students use idea generation skills and strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate –  students communicate their thinking and learning in words, sketches, photos, videos, etc. (e.g., in identifying the problem, in design plans that include 2D design sketches and key design steps/tasks, in lists of materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely –  students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while prototyping
  • Test – students use skills of observing and recording data as they test their prototypes
  • Reflect – students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes
Assessment

Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, student’s ability to:

  • Work Collaboratively –  students work collaboratively to complete a task and evaluate their group processes throughout the Design & Build process
  • Generate Ideas –  students use idea generation skills and strategies, such as brainstorming, to identify possible solutions as well as make decisions about the pros and cons of each solution
  • Communicate –  students communicate their thinking and learning in words, sketches, photos, videos, etc. (e.g., in identifying the problem, in design plans that include 2D design sketches and key design steps/tasks, in lists of materials/equipment/tools)
  • Work Safely –  students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while prototyping
  • Test – students use skills of observing and recording data as they test their prototypes
  • Reflect – students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes
Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Responding, Challenging
Students identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.
  • “How far will the water have to travel?”
  • “What will be the source of the water?”
  • “How much water will you need for testing?”
Students brainstorm and record criteria for the irrigation system.
  • “What words could we use to describe some of the features the irrigation system must have to be effective?”
  • “How will you get water to go to the two sides of the greenhouse?” 
  • “How can you get the water to travel that far?”
Students visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations.
  • “Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?”
  • “How are you going to represent each part of the irrigation system in the design sketch?”
Students develop a design plan (e.g., steps in creating a prototype, decisions about tools and materials).
  • “What connecting materials are you going to use?”
  • “What tools might you need for building the irrigation system?”
  • “What sizes of straws would be best to use?”
  • “How can you be sure that the two plants will be getting equal amounts of water?”
  • “Can you prevent leaks with that material? How?”
Students build/develop and test the design idea based on their sketches and design plan (create the prototype).
  • “Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?”
  • “I see the water stops before getting to the plants. What forces can you use to help your irrigation system work well?”
Students modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.
  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your irrigation system?”
  • “What changes in your model might improve your results?”
  • “How would you change your design if the water had to go farther?”
  • “How would you change your design if you wanted to water more plants?”
Students reflect on the results of their testing and identify things that could be done differently in the future.
  • “What materials worked best? What materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did your team encounter in working collaboratively to complete the challenge?”
  • “How challenging was it to design an irrigation system that does not leak?”

 

Co-constructed Learning
Students:
Saying, Doing, Representing
Educator:
Responding, Challenging
Students identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.
  • “How far will the water have to travel?”
  • “What will be the source of the water?”
  • “How much water will you need for testing?”
Students brainstorm and record criteria for the irrigation system.
  • “What words could we use to describe some of the features the irrigation system must have to be effective?”
  • “How will you get water to go to the two sides of the greenhouse?” 
  • “How can you get the water to travel that far?”
Students visualize what the solution might look like and make design sketches based on their visualizations.
  • “Why do engineers label all of the parts of their design sketches?”
  • “How are you going to represent each part of the irrigation system in the design sketch?”
Students develop a design plan (e.g., steps in creating a prototype, decisions about tools and materials).
  • “What connecting materials are you going to use?”
  • “What tools might you need for building the irrigation system?”
  • “What sizes of straws would be best to use?”
  • “How can you be sure that the two plants will be getting equal amounts of water?”
  • “Can you prevent leaks with that material? How?”
Students build/develop and test the design idea based on their sketches and design plan (create the prototype).
  • “Which of the design criteria does your prototype meet? Which ones does it not yet meet? Why do you think this happened?”
  • “I see the water stops before getting to the plants. What forces can you use to help your irrigation system work well?”
Students modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.
  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your irrigation system?”
  • “What changes in your model might improve your results?”
  • “How would you change your design if the water had to go farther?”
  • “How would you change your design if you wanted to water more plants?”
Students reflect on the results of their testing and identify things that could be done differently in the future.
  • “What materials worked best? What materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did your team encounter in working collaboratively to complete the challenge?”
  • “How challenging was it to design an irrigation system that does not leak?”

 

Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g., “Why do we need irrigation systems?” “Why do plants need a reliable source of water?”)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g., talk about the ways in which irrigation systems have changed and developed over time; discuss how irrigation technology can improve our lives and reduce our workload)
  • Working collaboratively (e.g., discuss possible solutions to construction challenges)


Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure and record (e.g., in a chart) distance, volume, and time using standard units (e.g., the volume of water (mL) used for each test of the systems, the distance the water travels before and after modifying the model, time takes the water to get to the end of the system)
  • Solve problems using student-generated algorithms (e.g., create a picture-based algorithm to code directions on how to build the irrigation system)
     

Visual Arts

  • Create artworks that express feelings, ideas, and issues using traditional and current media technologies (e.g., develop the design of the irrigation system using a digital drawing program)
  • Use elements of design to communicate ideas, messages, and understandings (e.g., create a commercial to advertise and promote the features of the irrigation system)
Cross-curricular Connections

Literacy

  • Ask questions (e.g., “Why do we need irrigation systems?” “Why do plants need a reliable source of water?”)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g., talk about the ways in which irrigation systems have changed and developed over time; discuss how irrigation technology can improve our lives and reduce our workload)
  • Working collaboratively (e.g., discuss possible solutions to construction challenges)


Mathematical Thinking

  • Measure and record (e.g., in a chart) distance, volume, and time using standard units (e.g., the volume of water (mL) used for each test of the systems, the distance the water travels before and after modifying the model, time takes the water to get to the end of the system)
  • Solve problems using student-generated algorithms (e.g., create a picture-based algorithm to code directions on how to build the irrigation system)
     

Visual Arts

  • Create artworks that express feelings, ideas, and issues using traditional and current media technologies (e.g., develop the design of the irrigation system using a digital drawing program)
  • Use elements of design to communicate ideas, messages, and understandings (e.g., create a commercial to advertise and promote the features of the irrigation system)
Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Increase the complexity of the irrigation system challenge (e.g., add more plants to reach, more distance to reach or surface area to cover).
  • Put an entrepreneurial spin on the Design & Build (e.g., as part of the design criteria, determine a budget and assign prices to the building materials).
Drip irrigation system in a greenhouse
Drip irrigation system in a greenhouse (Source: Blumenfischer [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Increase the complexity of the irrigation system challenge (e.g., add more plants to reach, more distance to reach or surface area to cover).
  • Put an entrepreneurial spin on the Design & Build (e.g., as part of the design criteria, determine a budget and assign prices to the building materials).
Drip irrigation system in a greenhouse
Drip irrigation system in a greenhouse (Source: Blumenfischer [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Supporting Media
Cover of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
Cover of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Source: Open Library).

The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown
A little boy tends a neglected garden, which grows to transform a city.
ISBN: 9780316015479

Learn More

Needs of Plants (Backgrounder)

Information on major conditions plants need, such as light, air, water, nutrients and space to grow. 

Plants: Needs (Picture Collection)

8 images representing some of the needs of plants for healthy growth such as water, nutrients and light

 

 

Supporting Media
Cover of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
Cover of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Source: Open Library).

The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown
A little boy tends a neglected garden, which grows to transform a city.
ISBN: 9780316015479

Learn More

Needs of Plants (Backgrounder)

Information on major conditions plants need, such as light, air, water, nutrients and space to grow. 

Plants: Needs (Picture Collection)

8 images representing some of the needs of plants for healthy growth such as water, nutrients and light

 

 

Learn More

Needs of Plants (Backgrounders)

Information on major conditions plants need, such as light, air, water, nutrients and space to grow. 

Plants: Needs (Picture Collection)

8 images representing some of the needs of plants for healthy growth such as water, nutrients and light

Plant Functions (Backgrounders) 

Learn about the important plant functions of photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration and meet Dr. Smith, a professor of Plant Science at McGill University in Montreal.

Learn More

Needs of Plants (Backgrounders)

Information on major conditions plants need, such as light, air, water, nutrients and space to grow. 

Plants: Needs (Picture Collection)

8 images representing some of the needs of plants for healthy growth such as water, nutrients and light

Plant Functions (Backgrounders) 

Learn about the important plant functions of photosynthesis, respiration and transpiration and meet Dr. Smith, a professor of Plant Science at McGill University in Montreal.