A CIESE Collaborative Project

Mini-Squares of Life

In this lesson students will solve the problem: How can we easily mark a small square to investigate in the same way that we studied a square meter? Students will use the Engineering Design Process to create a device, a "mini-square marker," that they can use to mark off a small area of study outdoors.
Note : Go to The Museum of Science, Boston for a one page teacher tutorial on using the Engineering Design Process with children.


Students will be able to:

  • Brainstorm several ideas for making it easy to mark a square on the ground.
  • Predict which materials will make the best device.
  • Use prior and new knowledge to design the device.
  • Compare the suitability of different designs.
  • Create a tool/device that they will use to complete a mini square investigation.


  • Pencils or markers
  • Rubber bands
  • Cardboard/oaktag /manila folders
  • Tape
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Paper
  • Index cards
  • Rulers
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • String
  • Hand lenses (for square study)
  • Compass

Time: One hour for introduction, designing and constructing. Plan time within a few days to go outside for the mini-square investigation.



  • Remind the students that the squares they studied for The Square of Life project were one meter on each side. Tell them that they will now have a chance to study their own smaller squares in different areas, and they will be making a tool that will help them define or show a square,
  • Introduce the problem: What tool can we make that will easily define/show a square so that we won't have to carry a ruler and measure a square on the ground every time we move to a different location in the school yard?


  • Ask: What would a device such as we need look like? The student responses might include, a picture frame or a window.
  • Ask: What would be a good size for your mini-squares? (The students can come to a consensus on one size or a range of sizes. Since these are mini-squares, it's recommended that they be 10 square centimeters or less).

    Design and Construct

  • Provide constraints and specifications:
    • Use only the materials provided.
    • The mini-square will define a plot of ground 5-10 square centimeters in size.
    • The mini-square tool must lie flat on the ground.
    • It must be heavy enough so that it won't blow away.
    • It must be sturdy enough to be used many times.
  • Students work in groups to plan and sketch their ideas.
  • Students build their mini-square tools.

Test Them Out

  • Take the mini-square tools outside and give the students time to use them in several different areas.
  • Give students time to sketch, take notes, and collect samples, as they did in Square of Life lesson "Field Trip to Your Square."

Evaluation of Designs

  • Ask the students: Did your tool stay in place? Did it make it easy for you to study your "mini square?" How could you improve on your design?
  • If time allows have the students work on improving their designs.