Lesson 1: Building a Foundation


In this lesson, students are asked to build a load-bearing structure using common materials. The structure will be tested on its ability to hold a textbook for more than ten seconds. The goal of this activity is to engage students in a difficult challenge to highlight strategies for showing persistence in the face of frustration. Most students will not get this right the first time, but if they continue trying and iterating, you can help them identify techniques to make struggle productive.


While this lesson may not at first seem connected to Computer Science, it plays an essential role in preparing students to tackle some of the more difficult challenges that will come their way when approaching new CS content. This lesson teaches that failure is not the end of a journey, but rather a step towards success. The majority of students should feel frustrated at some point in this lesson, but it's important to emphasize that failure and frustration are common steps that lead to creativity and success.


Warm Up (15 min)

Activity (20 min)

Wrap Up (10 min)

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Students will be able to:

  • Identify the feeling of frustration when felt or described
  • List strategies for overcoming frustration during a difficult task
  • Model persistence while working on a difficult task



Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Teachers

For the Students


  • Frustrated - Feeling annoyed or angry because something is not the way you want it.
  • Persistence - Trying again and again, even when something is very hard.


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Teaching Guide

Warm Up (15 min)

Try, Try Again

Lesson Tip

As you work to embed persistence into your classroom culture, consider using some of these images as occasional reminders.

Think: Ask students to close their eyes and think of a time where they tried to do something and didn't succeed. Maybe it was attempting a new sport, playing a tough video game, or learning a new skill. As they are thinking silently, ask that they focus specifically on:

  • What were you feeling?
  • What were you thinking?
  • What were you saying?
  • What were you doing?

Pair: Without discussing what the actual situation was, have students share with a neighbor about what it looked to try something and not succeed. Encourage them to talk about the things they were feeling, thinking, saying, and doing.

Discussion Goal

Focus on the experience: The goal of this discussion is to remind students what it feels like to fail, because we want to be able to identify those feelings when they occur so that we know when to rely on persistence strategies. Students may be temped to share information about the specific memories they thought of, but redirect students to focus on their experience. Some expected answers include:

  • Felt sad / mad
  • Cried
  • Yelled (or even cursed)
  • Threw or broke things
  • Asked for help
  • Quit

Share: Once all of the students have had a chance to share thoughts with their neighbors, ask a few to share what they were talking about with the whole class. Keep track of common answers somewhere that students can refer to later in the lesson (and possibly during future lessons as well).

Discuss: Using the list that the class generated, discuss which responses to failure were productive (potentially led towards later success) and which were not. Highlight the constructive responses so that students can refer to them later.

Share: Share out a personal experience where you (the teacher) initially failed at something, but persisted through to success. Let students know that today we are all going to work on a challenge that is meant to be hard and even frustrating. Let them know that it was chosen because it's likely to create several failed attempts before it works but we can rely on some of the constructive responses we talked about earlier to move towards success.

Activity (20 min)

Building a Foundation

The goal of this lesson is not just building a structure, like the activity makes it appear. Instead, it's to prepare students to face failure and frustration with persistence. In order for that to happen, students need to know that they are not alone in feeling bad when things go wrong. They also need to be prepared to struggle. The outcome of this activity is much stronger when students know what they are about to experience.


We are going to work in groups today to solve a challenge. It is going to be a very hard challenge, and they made it this way on purpose! Part of completing this challenge is knowing that we will struggle and we will probably even feel frustrated. Just know that if you hang in there through the failure, you will eventually succeed!

Set Up: You'll need to have a collection of supplies for each group ready for this activity. It's important that the available supplies are limited in number and structurally unsound. Potential supply kits include:

  • 20 gumdrops and 50 toothpicks
  • 20 drinking straws and 6" of tape
  • 20 marshmallows and 20 craft sticks
  • 10 playing cards and 4" of tape

Transition: Introduce the challenge, which is to build a structure that can hold a textbook for at least 10 seconds, using provided materials.

Teaching Tip

Providing Examples: The planning stage can be difficult for young students. It may be helpful for you to place some idea "examples" at the front of the room. Do not announce that they are there. Simply encourage students to take a walk if they get frustrated. Try to encourage students to locate the tips on their own if at all possible. This helps students feel like they "discovered" something that helped them, rather than being rescued. Make sure you also have "tips" for being persistent and for dealing with frustration written in a clear location.

Tips for Overcoming Frustration

  • Count to 10
  • Take deep breaths
  • Journal about them
  • Talk to a partner about them
  • Ask for help

Tips for Being Persistent

  • Keep track of what you have already tried
  • What is happening?
  • What is supposed to happen?
  • What does that tell you?
  • Make a change and try again

Group: Divide students into groups of three or four.

Distribute: Pass out the building supplies, letting students know that they are limited to only the supplies you provide.

Display: Show rules that are similar to the ones itemized below in a place where students can easily see and refer back to as they work.

  • Use only the supplies provided to build a structure.
  • The structure can be any shape, but it has to be at least 2.5" tall. (Example)
  • The structure must support the weight of a book for a full 10 seconds. (Example)

Prompt: Ask groups to spend at least 5 minutes planning a method for building their first tower. Each group should draw or write down the steps in their plan.

Circulate: Encourage students to begin building, and observe as they work. Keep your eyes open for signs of frustration and repeated failure. Make sure to acknowledge frustration and praise their persistence. Refer to the methods of dealing with frustration and the methods for productive persistence that are written on the board. Keep reminding individuals that the goal of this lesson is to experience frustration and persistence, so if they are failing, they're really succeeding!

When groups have reached a design they believe will meet conditions, move them to the "Testing and Iteration" phase.

Testing and Iteration

Model: The first time a group tests their structure, model for them them how you intend to test in line with the rules. Specifically you'll want to:

  • Check that it's at least 2.5" tall
  • Ensure that they are using only provided materials
  • Gently place a text book on top and time how long it holds out.

Prompt: If the group's structure failed, ask them to discuss:

  • Why it failed
  • Whether their plan needs revision, or just another try
  • How they're going to improve the next iteration

If the structure succeeded, push them to support more weight until it breaks, and then follow the same reflection and iteration process.

Circulate: Allow as much time as you can for groups to continue iterating on their plans. Make sure to be excited not only for the successes, but also the failures. Model for students how much you can learn from your failed attempts.

Wrap Up (10 min)


Display: Present the vocab for this lesson, persistence, frustrated. Let the class know that they were showing persistence when they worked through failures in their structures.

Flash Chat: What did we learn?

Discussion Goal

This Flash Chat is meant to help the students come to terms with the negative emotions that they felt during the project, and help them see that they were not alone in their struggle. It should also prepare them to recall the tools that they used to help themselves overcome frustration and be persistent so that they can access those tools again when solving online puzzles.

Discuss: Reflect on the activity as a class, using the following prompts as a start.

  • Did anyone feel frustrated during this lesson?

    • Can you share what that felt like?
  • (Alternatively, you can ask "Who felt frustrated at some point during this lesson?" and cheer for the students who raise their hand.)

    • Then YOU won this lesson, and YOU won this lesson, and YOU won, too!
  • Was there a time that you thought about giving up?

    • What were you feeling, saying, doing, or thinking at that time?
    • How did you get past that feeling?
  • Do you think that you would be more proud of yourself for solving something that was easy, or something that was very, very hard?

End the discussion by bringing the context back to the warm-up.

Think: Where would you be now if you had not been persistent when you were learning to walk as a baby? Or if you had been too frustrated to keep going when you were learning to talk? What other things did you learn to do, even though they were very, very hard?

Pair: Have students discuss this thought exercise with an elbow partner to come up with 1-3 things that fit that description.

Share: Have students write the answers in their journals to remind themselves how strong they can be when faced with a challenge.

Standards Alignment

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CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

AP - Algorithms & Programming
  • 1A-AP-11 - Decompose (break down) the steps needed to solve a problem into a precise sequence of instructions.

Cross-curricular Opportunities

This list represents opportunities in this lesson to support standards in other content areas.

Common Core English Language Arts Standards

L - Language
  • 2.L.6 - Use words and phrases acquired through conversations, reading and being read to, and responding to texts, including using adjectives and adverbs to describe (e.g., When other kids are happy that makes me happy).
SL - Speaking & Listening
  • 11-12.SL.1 - Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasiv
  • 11-12.SL.1.d - Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or c
  • 11-12.SL.6 - Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Common Core Math Standards

MD - Measurement And Data
  • 2.MD.1 - Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes.
MP - Math Practices
  • MP.1 - Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • MP.2 - Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • MP.5 - Use appropriate tools strategically
  • MP.6 - Attend to precision
  • MP.7 - Look for and make use of structure
  • MP.8 - Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Next Generation Science Standards

ETS - Engineering in the Sciences
ETS1 - Engineering Design
  • K-2-ETS1-1 - Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
  • K-2-ETS1-2 - Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
  • K-2-ETS1-3 - Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.