Parents, Educators & Engineers

Speedy Shelter

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The Invention Challenge

Invent an emergency shelter that can fit a person and is sturdy and quick to build.

Materials (per team)

  • 2 cardboard sheets (approx. 8.5 x 11 in.)
  • 16 3-ft. bamboo plant stakes
  • 3 33- or 42-gal. garbage bags, cut open into sheets
  • scissors
  • duct tape
  • string

Brainstorm and Design

To help you brainstorm, look at the materials, discuss the questions below, and sketch some design ideas.

  • How will you make a sturdy frame?
  • How will you connect the poles together?
  • How will you attach the cover to the frame?
  • Besides hikers, who else might use such a shelter?
  • Buildings have to resist forces like the pushes and pulls caused by gravity and wind. What are some ways engineers help create sturdy buildings?
  • In addition to triangles, what shapes are good when building structures and why?


What've you got? Looks like getting in and out of the shelter may be tricky. And remember, in an emergency, there's no time to deal with lots of parts.

Test, Evaluate, and Redesign

Ready to test? Think about how you can stop the frame from wobbling. NOTE: Cross-braces turn squares into triangles. Triangles are strong because all three sides carry some of the load. In a square, only two sides support the load.

Discuss What Happened

  • What force affected your shelter the most?
  • What tent shapes seemed to be the strongest?
  • What were some successful strategies for making your shelter more stable?
  • What design changes would make your shelter easier to use or more useful in an emergency?
Picture of some kind of alarm contraption