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NSW Syllabuses

STEM Stage 1 - Activity 3

Push, pull, play

Description of activity

Students design and construct a toy which uses a push and/or a pull to operate it.

This activity could take up to two lessons.

  • brain-storming and designing the toy
  • construction, testing, modification and peer feedback.


Students define a force as a push, a pull or a twist. They understand that forces cause a change in movement: starting, stopping or changing direction. To apply this knowledge, students investigate how toys move. The main aim of this activity is to enable students to understand that a design plan is a useful part of any project. Early ideas, changes to those ideas and a justification for those changes provide valuable learning experiences. Students are given opportunities to provide constructive feedback to their peers and to use constructive feedback to improve their own product.



ST1-4WS investigates questions and predictions by collecting and recording data, sharing and reflecting on their experiences and comparing what they and others know
ST1-5WT uses a structured design process, everyday tools, materials, equipment and techniques to produce solutions that respond to identified needs and wants
MA1-3WM supports conclusions by explaining or demonstrating how answers were obtained

Knowledge and understanding

ST1-7PW describes effects of pushes and pulls on objects they encounter
MA1-16MG represents and describes the positions of objects in everyday situations and on maps
MA1-17SP gathers and organises data, displays data in lists, tables and picture graphs, and interprets the results



  • Strong cardboard (some from boxes), pencils and erasers
  • Glue sticks, scissors, sticky tape, reusable putty
  • Drinking straws, bottle caps, wooden skewers, wheels, balloons
  • paddle pop sticks, rubber bands, butterfly clips, string

Work, health and safety

Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • A design plan for a toy for which movement is an essential feature
  • A digital image of the constructed toy – that complies with the design plan

 STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Brainstorm the different types of toys that have movement, caused by a push, pull or twist, as an essential part of their use.
  • Classify the toys in terms of their motion, eg use wheels, spins, uses strings or sticks to move. (As this activity will result in students constructing a toy, avoid motorised or battery operated toys, wind-up toys could also pose problems.)
  • Students start a design process to build a toy that has movement caused by a push, a pull or a twist, as an essential part of its function.
  • Research the way in which toys use forces.
  • Students decide on the type of toy they will design.
  • Produce a design plan indicating material needed, a procedure for construction and a labelled diagram of the finished product indicating how it will move.
  • Students give feedback on other students' designs.
  • Follow the design plan to construct the toy. If there are any changes, note them on the design plan and explain why they are made.
  • Display and demonstrate the toy, referring to the design plan and explaining any changes that needed to be made.
  • Students provide constructive feedback.

Vocabulary list

Force – a push, a pull or a twist which results in a change of position
Friction – a contact force that opposes motion
Structure – the way in which the parts of an object are arranged or organised
Function – the purpose or activity for which a thing exists or is used
Material – the matter from which something is made, eg fabric, metal, wood
Justify – provide a reason to support a comment or argument
Feedback – information regarding a product or performance which is used as a basis for improvement

Key inquiry questions

Why seek and provide feedback?
An essential part of any design process is feedback. Encourage students to seek feedback from their peers and from the teacher. If the task is done in groups, the group is the first source of feedback. Feedback is not cheating it is developing skills in analysis, critical thinking and communication. Feedback should be positive and useful. It is not enough to just say 'It's good' or 'That's nice', there always needs to be a suggestion for improvement. Even if the item is not particularly successful, feedback should find the positive and offer suggestions for improvement. Children often find offering suggestions for improvement (other than superficial) challenging. It should be explained that thinking about ways in which someone else's work can be improved, often leads to improvement in one's own work. Use the video Austin's Butterfly to help students understand the responsibilities and characteristics of feedback.

What is the importance of the design plan?
Students will often just want to build without a design plan. The skills in 'Working Technologically' revolve around the development of a design process and developing the critical thinking skills inherent in any problem solving venture. Stress the importance of the design process. All students will have ideas about toys, but to make this a learning experience these ideas need to be interrogated. This is achieved through research which provides refinements and gives students factual information to help them justify their choices. By thinking about processes of design and how they are going to achieve their finished product, students should be able to determine what equipment and the amount of material they will need. Once in the construction phase, students will often change their minds about something on their design plan. One of the criteria for success in this activity is that the object created is clearly related to the design plan. It should be emphasised that there is no problem to changing the design plan. Don't discard the original plan, but annotate it to describe the changes and explain why they were made. The student's justification for the changes should be because there was a problem that needed to be overcome, not just 'I didn't like the old one.' The changes and their justifications will make the design plan an interesting and valuable learning document.

Additional information

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

If an object is at rest, no forces are acting on the object
It is true that a force is required to change the motion of an object, but there are many forces like the forces of gravity and friction which will be exerted on an object at rest.

Only living things can exert a force
Students may get this impression, but the forces of gravity, friction, magnetism and air resistance for example require no input from living things.

Support materials

Teacher references

Student interactive

Student references

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Investigate toys, from different cultures or times that use movement. GE1-1; HT1-1

Students survey other students concerning the types of motion toys they own. Record results in a table using tally marks. Discuss the importance of obtaining lots of data. Draw a conclusion about the most popular types of moving toys.


By completing this STEM activity, you have enhanced your students' understanding of the action of forces. This understanding is vital for their future studies in Physics, particularly Newton's Three Laws of Motion.

You have also guided your students in the development and uses of a design plan. The testing and justification of changes to that plan develop students' resilience and their ability to learn from feedback and mistakes. This is probably the most significant outcome of this activity.