Lesson plan

Dog Dish Design

In this lesson, students will use computational thinking and design engineering to create and compare prototypes of a feeding dish for a pet dog.
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Students will design, create and test a prototype.

(5 minutes)
  • Playfully introduce students to the toy dog. Invite students to name their new "pet" dog.
  • Ask students, "What do we need to take care of our new pet?" Some will likely respond that a dog needs food to eat.
  • Tell students, "We need a dish to feed our dog. Your job today is to design a dog dish to hold the food for our pet dog."
  • Explain that the design process will include three steps:
    1. design
    2. create
    3. test
  • Optional: Use a picture book, such as The Most Magnificant Thing to provide an example of a design process.
(5 minutes)
  • Explain to students that the design process will first involve drawing a sketch of a dog dish. The second step will be creating a prototype out of clay. The third step will involve testing the prototype.
  • Pass out supplies: drawing/graph paper for the design and clay for the prototype.
  • Explain that a prototype is a model of an idea, not the finished product.
(5 minutes)
  • Demonstrate the design engineering process by designing and creating a prototype that is obviously flawed, such as a lopsided dish that easily tips over.
  • Show students your sketch and clay model.
  • Test your model by placing it in front of the toy dog. Playfully demonstrate that the dog can't eat out of a dish that easily tips over.
(20 minutes)
  • Students begin by drawing a simple sketch of their design. This should only take a few minutes.
  • Next, students will work with a small amount of clay to create a prototype of their design.
  • Most students will find that the biggest challenge is creating a prototype that does not tip over. Ask students questions that will help them evaluate their design and identify areas needing improvement, such as: "What will happen when our dog eats from this dish? Will the dog food spill?"


  • For students with more advanced math skill, challenge them to measure their prototype and record their data.


  • For students who have difficulty visualizing a design for a dog dish, show them photos of dog dishes from pet supply websites.
(5 minutes)
  • Circulate around the room and observe each student sketching and working with clay.
  • Measure student success by whether or not each student is able to complete a design and a prototype.
(5 minutes)
  • Invite students, one by one, to test their design by placing their dish in front of the toy dog and pretending that the dog is eating from the dish.
  • Ask questions that encourage students to evaluate their design, such as: "How well does your prototype work?" or "Is there anything you might change in your design to make it better?"
  • Optional: Discuss how the design engineering process used to create a dog dish is similar to the process computer scientists use to program computers. Show a video of robotic engineer Simone Giertz. Discuss with students:
    • What was wrong or funny about Simone Giertz's robots?
    • Have you ever built something and it didn't turn out the way you had hoped? What did you do?
    • What do you think computer scientists do to fix their mistakes and problems?

Ann Gadzikowski is an author and educator with a passion for challenging children to think creatively and critically. Her recent book Robotics for Young Children won the 2018 Midwest Book Award for best educational book. Ann developed her expertise in robotics, computer science, and engineering through her work as early childhood coordinator for Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. She has over 25 years of experience as a teacher and director of early childhood programs, and currently serves as the Executive Director of Preschool of the Arts, a Reggio-Emilia inspired school in Madison, Wisconsin.

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