Top image: Toy train (photo by spowell, Pixabay)

Setting the Stage

Prior Skills and Knowledge

To participate in this Design & Build, students should be able to safely use basic cutting tools (e.g., scissors), fasteners (e.g., tape, glue) and materials (e.g., yarn, paper, recycled cardboard boxes) in their construction. Students should also have some experience with conducting a fair test and working as a collaborative group. It is also highly recommended that students conduct the Magnificent Magnets Inquiry prior to participating in this Design & Build.

Toy race car
Source: Mike, Pexels


Toys come in many different shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common – they are fun to play with! Some toys are fun to play with because of their ability to move. These types of toys are designed to move by throwing, rolling, pushing or pulling – in other words, by having a force applied to them.

This Design & Build challenge provides opportunities for students to apply their knowledge about magnetic force and their Design & Build skills to safely create and test a toy that is moved using forces applied by magnets.

This design and build could begin from:

Toy train
Source: spowell, Pixabay

  • questions and/or comments that arise after students observe a collection of toys that move. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What do all of these things have in common?”
    • “How would you play with this toy?”
    • “What makes this toy fun for you?”
    • “Would everyone find this toy fun? Why or why not?”
    • “Where do these toys get the energy to move?”
    • “What would be some of the advantages/disadvantages of playing with this type of toy?” (e.g., use of batteries)
  • looking at examples of objects that use magnets, such as fridge magnets, paper clip holders, toy trains, etc. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What do all of these things have in common?”
    • “What is the function of the magnet in this object?”
    • “Where else have you seen magnets used to do similar jobs?” (e.g., magnetic key holders, magnets used at auto wrecker)
  • Cover of Toys! Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don Wulffson
    Source: Open Library

  • reading a book such as Toys! Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions. Discuss using questions such as:
    • If you were going to invent a toy, why might you want to incorporate a magnet into it?”

Design Criteria

As a class, students brainstorm criteria that their prototype toys must meet. Educators may choose to add other criteria that are curriculum-specific, such as using specific types or number of joiners/fasteners, measuring, using specific materials, etc.

Design criteria examples:

  • Must be able to move (roll, slide, etc.)
  • Must be pushed or pulled using magnets
  • Must include 3 different shapes
  • Must include 3 joiners/fasteners
  • Use minimum of $5 and maximum of $10 when purchasing materials

Materials and Preparation (Click to Expand)


  • Cardboard boxes and tubes, various sizes
  • cash register, toy (optional)
  • craft sticks
  • cups, assorted, small (e.g., paper, Styrofoam)
  • elastic bands, various sizes
  • magnets (ring, bar, magnetic building blocks)
  • paper (construction, cardstock, etc.)
  • paper clips
  • pipe cleaners
  • play money
  • scissors (1/student group)
  • straws, drinking
  • tape, masking


  • Collect an assortment of recycled and new materials that students will use to construct the prototype toys. The materials list above is only a suggested list.
  • Determine the required quantities of materials for each working group and organize the materials.
  • Option: Provide students with a set amount of play money and set up a ‘store’ area where students can ‘buy’ their materials. This could be included in the design criteria (e.g., you must spend a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $10).

What To Do

Students develop and apply Design & Build skills as they design, build and test a prototype toy that moves using magnets.

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 be tested
  • 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 their sketches and 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


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 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. as they identify problems, do research, develop design plans, and share design solutions
  • Work Safely students demonstrate safe practices when using a variety of tools and materials while prototyping
  • Reflect students reflect on the results of their prototype testing and suggest things that they might do differently to improve their prototypes

Co-constructing Learning

Saying, Doing, Representing

Educator Interactions:
Responding, Challenging

Students identify and refine the problem to be solved/need to be met.

  • “What kind of toy are you thinking of making?"
  • “What are different ways that a toy could move?”

Students brainstorm and record criteria for the toy.

  • “What words could we use to describe some of the features a toy must have to be fun?”

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 toy in the design sketch?”
  • “How will the magnets be used?”

Students develop a design plan (e.g., steps in creating a prototype, decisions about tools and materials).

  • “How will your team determine the tasks that you need to do to construct your prototype?”
  • “How will you record your observations during your tests and   the modifications you make as a result?”
  • “What materials would be useful for building your toy?”
  • “What tools might you need for building your toy?”
  • Which type of magnet(s) do you think will work best for your toy? Why do you think this?

Students build/develop and test the design idea based on their sketches and design plan (create the prototype).

  • “What changes in your prototype might make it …?” (e.g., “Move more easily?” “Incorporate more shapes?” “Use different types of fasteners?”)

Students modify the prototype and retest it against the design criteria as necessary.

  • How did you change your toy design after the first test? Why did you need to make these changes?”
  • “What problems did you have when you re-tested your toy?”
  • “How would you change your design if you could not touch the toy in order for it to move?”

Students reflect on the results of their testing and identify things that could be done differently in the future.

  • “Which materials worked best? Which materials did not work as well?”
  • “What challenges did your team encounter in working collaboratively to complete the challenge?”
  • What would you do differently next time?”
  • “Was your toy fun to play with? Would other children think your toy was fun? What changes in your toy might make it more fun?”

Cross-Curricular Connections


  • Ask questions (e.g., “What is fun about your toy?” “Why do you think people play with toys?” Is it only children that play with toys?” “Where do we use magnets at home and at school?”)
  • Communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas (e.g., while brainstorming criteria for a toy, in design plans that include 2D design sketches, in an outline of key design steps/tasks and lists of required materials and equipment/tools)
  • Work collaboratively to come up with solutions (e.g., how to construct a toy that is powered by magnets)

Mathematical Thinking

  • Recognize and use 2-D and 3D shapes (e.g., use a triangle for a sail on their boat) to make the toys
  • Represent using pictures, diagrams, graphs, tables, numbers, words, and/or symbols (e.g., sketch their visualization of how their toy might meet the established criteria; use tables to record tests and redesigns of their toy)
  • Measure and record length (e.g., the distance that the toy can move)
  • Add and subtract money amounts (e.g., tally the cost of materials to build the toy)

Visual Arts

  • Discuss visual design elements (e.g., how to include colour, shape, texture, form in the design of their toy)
  • Communicate for different audiences and different purposes through the arts (e.g., discuss appealing to a specific audience with their toy design)

Extending the Learning

Cover of Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams
Source: Open Library

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

  • Read the book Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What is the galimoto made of?”
    • “How does the galimoto move?”
    • “How does your experience with designing and building a toy compare to the boy’s experience designing and building a toy?”
  • Explore traditional toys played with by children in other parts of the world. Discuss using questions such as:
    • “How are these toys like the toys you play with? How are they different? How do they move? Why do you think this is?”
    • “What materials are the toys made of? Why do you think these materials were used?”
  • Traditional Russian dolls
    Source: falco, Pixabay

    • “Do any of the toys make use of magnets like the toys you designed and built? Why do you think this is?
  • Provide opportunities for students to design and build toys with other means of movement (battery-powered, gravity, springs, wind-up, etc.). For example, students might create their own jack-in-the-box toys using springs made out of paper and recycled cardboard boxes or fasteners explored in the Finding Out About Fasteners Inquiry.