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published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
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This lesson plan, appropriate for grades 6-9, asks students to create a robot arm from common household materials that include paper clips, fishing line, cardboard, brads, pencils, rubber bands, and twine. The final product must be at least 18 inches in length and able to pick up an empty Styrofoam cup. As learners go through the design process they must work as a team to learn about simple machines, force interaction, torque, stress, and more.

This item is part of a collection of lessons and online games developed to help students think like an engineer and make decisions that apply an understanding of physics and engineering.
It is part of TryEngineering.org, a website maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Editor's Note: See Related Materials for a link to the "Bionic Arm Design Challenge", an online game where users virtually design and test a bionic arm. Together, these resources meet a number of national science standards and offer solid opportunities to integrate physics with the practice of engineering.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
= Dynamic Torque
- Statics of Rigid Bodies
= Stresses
- Work and Energy
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- Middle School
- High School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- New teachers
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© 2006 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
applied physics, engineering physics, lever arm, mechanical engineering, robot arm, robotics, simple machine
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created March 14, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 10, 2020 by Bruce Mason
Last Update
when Cataloged:
June 30, 2011

Next Generation Science Standards

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (MS-PS2)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object's motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object. (MS-PS2-2)

Engineering Design (MS-ETS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (MS-ETS1-1)
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (MS-ETS1-2)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)
Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer (PS3.B)
  • When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time. (6-8)
Relationship Between Energy and Forces (PS3.C)
  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (6-8)
Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem (ETS1.A)
  • The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions. (6-8)
Developing Possible Solutions (ETS1.B)
  • There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. (6-8)
  • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it. (6-8)
  • Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors. (6-8)
  • Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs— and energy, matter, and information flows within systems. (6-8)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • Structures can be designed to serve particular functions. (6-8)
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology (K-12)
  • Science and engineering complement each other in the cycle known as research and development (R&D). (9-12)
Science is a Human Endeavor (3-12)
  • Most scientists and engineers work in teams. (4)
  • Advances in technology influence the progress of science and science has influenced advances in technology. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis. (6-8)
    • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. (6-8)
Asking Questions and Defining Problems (K-12)
  • Asking questions and defining problems in grades 6–8 builds from grades K–5 experiences and progresses to specifying relationships between variables, and clarifying arguments and models. (6-8)
    • Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the classroom, outdoor environment, and museums and other public facilities with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on observations and scientific principles. (6-8)
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (6-8)
    • Apply scientific principles to design an object, tool, process or system. (6-8)
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)
  • Planning and carrying out investigations to answer questions or test solutions to problems in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include investigations that use multiple variables and provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions. (6-8)
    • Conduct an investigation to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of an investigation. (6-8)
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (5-12)
  • Mathematical and computational thinking at the 6–8 level builds on K–5 and progresses to identifying patterns in large data sets and using mathematical concepts to support explanations and arguments. (6-8)
    • Use mathematical representations to support scientific conclusions and design solutions. (6-8)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 6-8: 3A/M3. Engineers, architects, and others who engage in design and technology use scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. They also usually have to take human values and limitations into account.
  • 9-12: 3A/H2. Mathematics, creativity, logic, and originality are all needed to improve technology.
  • 9-12: 3A/H3a. Technology usually affects society more directly than science does because technology solves practical problems and serves human needs (and also creates new problems and needs).
3B. Design and Systems
  • 6-8: 3B/M4a. Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4b. The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, overdesign, and redundancy.
3C. Issues in Technology
  • 6-8: 3C/M2. Technology cannot always provide successful solutions to problems or fulfill all human needs.
  • 6-8: 3C/M9. In all technologies, there are always trade-offs to be made.

4. The Physical Setting

4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
  • 9-12: 4F/H1. The change in motion (direction or speed) of an object is proportional to the applied force and inversely proportional to the mass.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M1. The choice of materials for a job depends on their properties.
  • 6-8: 8B/M2. Manufacturing usually involves a series of steps, such as designing a product, obtaining and preparing raw materials, processing the materials mechanically or chemically, and assembling the product. All steps may occur at a single location or may occur at different locations.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M5. The usefulness of a model depends on how closely its behavior matches key aspects of what is being modeled. The only way to determine the usefulness of a model is to compare its behavior to the behavior of the real-world object, event, or process being modeled.
  • 9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006), WWW Document, (https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/).
TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006), <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm. (2011, June 30). Retrieved May 23, 2024, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, June 30, 2011. https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/ (accessed 23 May 2024).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006. 30 June 2011. International Business Machines. 23 May 2024 <https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {23 May 2024}, Month = {June 30, 2011}, Year = {2006} }
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%T TryEngineering:  Build Your Own Robot Arm %D June 30, 2011 %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/ %O application/pdf

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%0 Electronic Source %D June 30, 2011 %T TryEngineering:  Build Your Own Robot Arm %I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers %V 2024 %N 23 May 2024 %8 June 30, 2011 %9 application/pdf %U https://tryengineering.org/teacher/build-your-own-robot-arm/

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TryEngineering: Build Your Own Robot Arm:

Accompanies TryEngineering: Bionic Arm Design Challenge

An interactive simulation that allows learners to virtually design and test a bionic arm. They must meet certain criteria, including budget constraints.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By Dean Kamen's Artificial Arm

This 6-minute video chronicles the efforts of inventor/physicist Dean Kamen to develop a robotic arm with the functionality and dexterity of its human countepart.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic (Different Course Level) As Robot Arm Tutorial

A learner's guide for constructing a more advanced robot arm, appropriate for high school physics courses. Includes schematic drawings, explanations of force calculations, and detailed blueprints for each component of the system.

relation by Caroline Hall

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Mar 30 - May 30, 2012