Paddle Power

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In this design challenge, learners build a boat that paddles itself using a rubber band as its power source. Learners follow the design process to make a boat out of cups, design and build working paddles, use rubber bands to store and release energy, and figure out ways to attach their paddles to their boats. This is a great activity for lessons on engineering and potential/kinetic energy.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Type:

English, Spanish

Materials List (per student)

  • chipboard (8 1/2 x 11 sheet)
  • wide container partially filled with water (e.g., kiddie pool, bathtub, underbed storage container, wallpaper tray)
  • duct tape
  • 2 paper cups (8 ounce or larger)
  • 5 rubber bands
  • scissors
  • towels (paper or cloth)
  • 4 straws
  • washers (1-inch or larger)
  • 4 wooden skewers


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Transportation Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Potential and Kinetic Energy
      • Energy and Power
      • Work and Machines
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Toys
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Design Squad Nation


Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 0810996