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NSW Syllabuses

STEM Early Stage 1 - Activity 6

A bed for princess pea

Description of activity

Students will design and make a comfortable bed for Princess Pea so she cannot feel the pea underneath her mattress.

This activity will take approximately 1 hour.


Students know that everyday objects are made of different materials. They will have observed and felt different materials, grouping them into categories based on appearance, texture and function.



STe-4WS explores their immediate surroundings by questioning, observing using their senses and communicating to share their observations and ideas
STe-5WT uses a simple design process to produce solutions with identified purposes
MAe-2WM uses objects, actions, technology and/or trial and error to explore mathematical problems

Knowledge and understanding

STe-9ME identifies that objects are made of materials that have observable properties
STe-10ME recognises how familiar products, places and spaces are made to suit their purpose
MAe-14MG manipulates, sorts and represents three-dimensional objects and describes them using everyday language
ENe-1A communicates with peers and known adults in informal and guided activities demonstrating emerging skills of group interaction


  • Tennis balls
  • Samples of common materials that could be used in constructing a model bed, eg gymnastics mats, newspaper, cardboard boxes, blocks, tarpaulins, picnic rugs, blankets, cushions
  • A range of three-dimensional shapes, eg box, ball, cone, pyramid, star, cylinder
  • Sample images of bedrooms and different types of beds

Work, health and safety

Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • A labelled sketch and a photograph of a model bed constructed so that a solid object placed underneath it cannot be felt.
  • A video recording or documented observation could be used showing students demonstrating a trial and error approach to problem solving.

STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Discuss what objects and materials are needed for humans to have a good night’s sleep. Students reflect upon their bedroom at home or prior experiences such as camping.
  • Examine a range of objects and materials used in different bed designs. Make a word wall of language used to describe these objects and materials.
  • Read or view a retelling of the classic fairytale ‘The Princess and the Pea’ by Hans Christian Andersen. Pose the following questions:
    • Why didn’t the princess have a good night’s sleep?
    • How could we rearrange or change her bed so she couldn’t feel the pea?
  • Reflect on the properties of three-dimensional objects and materials when discussing student ideas, eg size, texture, strength, smoothness, pointiness, roundness, the ability to be stacked.
  • Students justify:
    • which solid would best model the pea in the story
    • which materials would make the most effective bed
    • how much of each material would be needed.
  • In small groups, students design and make a new bed for Princess Pea with provided sample materials so that a solid object placed underneath her mattress cannot be felt.
  • Students test their design and note any changes they make to their design as a result of testing.

Vocabulary list

Base – the lowest point of an object which supports other materials
Function - the job or purpose of an object or material
Lifespan – the period of time an object or material is expected to last in good condition
Structure - the way that an object is built or arranged<
Support - to hold up an object or material
Texture - the way materials feel
Volume - the space used by an object or material

Key inquiry questions

What is a material?

Encourage students to distinguish between natural materials and man-made materials.

How do different materials help us in our daily lives?

  • Ask students to consider where they see or use different materials in their daily life.
  • Guide students to consider clothing, furniture, storage, school equipment etc.
  • Encourage students to reflect upon the benefits of different materials in achieving a particular purpose.

Additional information

The following statements outline some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.

Rigid materials are the strongest

Students are likely to relate the meaning of strong to the idea of weight bearing. In this sense, rigid materials often appear to be stronger than other materials .However, the strength of materials is determined by a number of properties. Students should be encouraged to consider whether the durability, support and flexibility of a material make it strong.

Support materials

  • A retelling of the classic fairytale ‘The Princess and the Pea’ by Hans Christian Andersen
  • YouTube video: Materials Song

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Students’ critical thinking can be extended by asking them to explain the advantages and disadvantages of their design. Some sample discussion questions may include:

  • Could any of the materials from your bed design be used again?
  • Could you make your bed design larger or smaller?
  • How long did your bed design take to make?

Students explore whether the properties (area, mass, shape, materials etc) of different concealed objects change the effectiveness of their bed design.

Students investigate the design and functionality of traditional shelters and everyday tools of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and reflect upon the diverse range of objects which can be made manually from natural materials.

The teacher provides a sensory bag containing different materials and objects for students to feel and describe.


In this STEM activity your students explored the idea that objects in their everyday surroundings are made of different materials. Students have used their hands to manipulate three-dimensional objects and materials. They have used drawings and verbal reasoning to categorise common objects and materials according to their properties. Students worked collaboratively to conduct a simple test by trial and error and were given the opportunity to adjust their design.

The knowledge and understanding developed in this activity will help students learn about the properties of matter and classification. They will compare and contrast the properties of natural and processed materials and begin to explore solids which can change their state. All of these ideas are developed in Science Stage 4 and Technology (Mandatory) Stage 4.