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NSW Syllabuses

STEM Stage 2 - Activity 6


Description of activity

Students develop and model a playground design with living and non-living features. In doing so, they will consider the purpose, appearance and functionality of built environments alongside environmental considerations.
This activity could take approximately 3 hours over 3 sessions.


Students recognise the difference between built and natural environments. They are able to reflect upon their own interactions in built environments. Students appreciate that environmental considerations are a priority when choosing construction materials and locations for built environments.



ST2-4WS investigates their questions and predictions by analysing collected data, suggesting explanations for their findings, and communicating and reflecting on the processes undertaken
ST2-5WT applies a design process and uses a range of tools, equipment, materials and techniques to produce solutions that address specific design criteria
MA2-3WM checks the accuracy of a statement and explains the reasoning used

Knowledge and understanding

ST2-11LW describes ways that science knowledge helps people understand the effect of their actions on the environment and on the survival of living things
ST2-14BE describes how people interact within built environments and the factors considered in their design and construction
MA2-9MG measures, records, compares and estimates lengths, distances and perimeters in metres, centimetres and millimetres, and measures, compares and records temperatures
MA2-10MG measures, records, compares and estimates areas using square centimetres and square metres


  • 1cm grid paper
  • Everyday materials for dioramas, eg shoe boxes, crepe paper, coloured cardboard, pipe cleaners, modelling clay, etc
  • Sample images of natural and built environments

Work, health and safety

  • Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.
  • Materials should be selected so that they can be manipulated by hand or with everyday classroom equipment, eg scissors.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • A survey instrument and collected data about playground usage
  • A completed design plan template which incorporates peer feedback
  • A diagram of the overall area and areas within the proposed playground
  • A diorama of the proposed playground
  • Documented observations or recordings of student presentations

STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Observe images of natural and built environments. As a class, categorise the images and compile a list of characteristics for both types of environment. Pose the discussion question: What needs to be considered in the design and construction of a built environment?
  • Explain to students that a design plan is needed in the development of built environments. A design plan consists of an inquiry question, research, planning, making, testing and modifying. In pairs, students will create a design plan for a playground. The playground will feature living and non-living components and prioritise environmental sustainability.
  • View ‘The highs and lows of a musical playground’ and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the playground.
  • In pairs, students survey their peers to find out what playground features are popular among their age group. Students discuss their data and use it to inform their playground design.
  • View ‘Kid architects and sustainable design’. Students reflect upon the environmental risks posed by built environments.
  • In pairs, students research built environments to inform the development of their playground design.
  • In pairs, students use 1cm grid paper to plan the overall area of their playground and the areas within the playground. Dimensions with appropriate units of measurement and features should be labelled.
  • Share design plans so each group can receive peer feedback. Students are then given time to adjust their designs.
  • In pairs, students construct a diorama of their playground using everyday materials. The diorama must clearly represent living and non-living features.
  • In pairs, students present their diorama to the class and explain the key features of their playground design. Students share the reasoning behind adjustments and inclusions. This reasoning will refer back to the characteristics of built environments, eg access, aesthetics, purpose, etc.

Vocabulary list

Aesthetics – factors that contribute to the appearance of a building
Architecture – the design of built environments
Biodiversity – a variety of living things
Function –the job or purpose of an object or material
Irrigation – a system for watering
Lifespan –the period of time an object or material is expected to last in good condition
Renewable –something that can be replenished or replaced
Repurpose –to use an object for a new purpose
Sustainable –the ability to last a long time

Key inquiry questions

Who contributes to the design of built environments?
Guide students to the understanding that although an architect may develop a building plan, many stakeholders contribute to the design of built environments. Community consultations are held to survey the needs of people who will interact with the built environment. Environmental scientists evaluate the impact or the proposed impact of the built environment on the natural environment and help with the relocation of living things as needed. Engineers and builders check the viability of the project and ensure the construction process is safe.

How can scientific knowledge assist with the planning of built environments?
Encourage students to consider how knowledge of biodiversity, renewable resources, natural and man-made materials, climate, soil composition and land formations is relevant to the effective planning of built environments.

Additional information

The following statements outline some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.
Building developments pose more harm than good for the environment.
Students may feel that the addition of manufactured materials to the natural environment can only have negative implications. However, well-designed built environments may assist in the minimisation of traffic and pollution and repurpose materials that would otherwise end up as waste. Consultation and thorough planning are the keys to ensuring built environments protect the existing natural environment.

Support materials

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Digital technologies could be used as an alternative to a drawn diagram and/or a diorama.

Students requiring support could be provided with a list of living, non-living and environmentally sustainable features to include in their playground design.

Students requiring extension could design systems to enhance the functionality of their built environment. Systems could focus on transport, irrigation and the use of renewable energy sources.

Students requiring extension could investigate famous built landmarks around the world and research how they are celebrated and used by particular cultures and communities. Students could investigate shelters and structures traditionally used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Students could explore local planning issues in their community and compose persuasive and informative texts about built environments. Their compositions could also explore the geographical concept of how humans shape places.


In this STEM activity, students used a design plan to develop a playground which includes living, non-living and environmentally sustainable features. They reflected upon the purpose and aesthetics of built environments and realised that a collaborative approach is needed to ensure adequate planning and consultation. Students appreciated how scientific knowledge underlies architectural decisions. In Stage 3 students will examine systems which accompany built environments. In Science Stage 4 students will consider how active management of natural resources contributes to the planning of built environments.

Students worked scientifically by researching sustainable designs, and collecting and analysing data to inform the development of their playground design. Students worked technologically by using labelled drawings and models to communicate their ideas. In Stage 3 students will represent collected data in a number of ways and evaluate the design process by identifying strengths and limitations.