Cadette Think Like an Engineer Journey Activity


Take the Corgi Vest Design Challenge

Find out how engineers solve problems with the Design Thinking Process. Then, take on a design challenge to engineer a life vest for a corgi!

Activity Details

Set-Up: You've been hired by a family who has a corgi named Champ. Corgis have a hard time swimming because of their short legs. To prepare for a trip, the family has asked you to design and engineer a life vest for Champ so he can float and play with the children in the lake.

For this design challenge, follow the steps of the Design Thinking Process to engineer a prototype of the life vest. A prototype is a quick way to show an idea to others or to try it out. The Design Thinking Process is the steps engineers go through to solve problems. They: identify the problem, brainstorm and plan, build, test, and improve.

Time needed: 60 minutes

Materials needed:

  • 1 unopened 12 ounce can
  • 2+ sheets of foam
  • 2 plastic bags (like strong sandwich bags)
  • 3 large rubber bands
  • 2 sheets of blank paper
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Stopwatch or timer
  • Pencil
  • Markers

Note: If you’re missing a material or have another idea for something that might be useful, free feel to try them out! For example, you might want to test things that float, like Styrofoam or other packing materials. Trying out different ideas to see what works is something engineers do!


To prepare for the challenge, follow the instructions below to:

1)create a model dog and
2)build your testing station.

1.  Create a model dog for the challenge. Take a sheet of foam, sketch, and cut out four paws and a head. Then, attach them to the can with some tape. If you want to create an animal that isn't a dog, that's great! Feel free to use the foam sheet to create and cut out any type of animal.

2. Create a testing station. Fill a tub or a large plastic container with water. If you use a separate container, place it in an area of the room that can get wet. Make sure to have a couple towels nearby for easy clean-up!

To get started, identify the problem you're trying to solve: engineer a life vest for Champ so he can swim in the water.

Then, spend a few minutes brainstorming the design of your life vest. Sketch your ideas on sheets of scratch paper to create a plan that keeps in mind the criteria and constraints.

  • Criteria are things the design needs to accomplish. They’re the goals for a prototype. The criteria for the challenge is that your life vest must

    1) allow the dog to float with its head above the water for 10 seconds and
    2) easily attach and detach from the dog.

  • Constraints are ways the design is limited. For example, there might only be a certain amount of time to build the prototype or a limited amount of materials to make it. The constraint for this challenge is that you can only use your challenge materials, including the plastic bags, foam sheets, and rubber bands. If you also gathered other materials to use, like Styrofoam, feel free to try them out!

Once you have some ideas, choose one to turn into a prototype.

Then, use your plan and materials to create a life vest for your model animal. As you build, feel free to try lots of different ideas to see what works and doesn't work. Remember, the goal is to practice thinking like an engineer, NOT to make a perfect life vest!

When you think you have a finished prototype, test it and see how well it works!

Before you start testing, what do you think will happen to your prototype? Will Champ be able to float? Will the model sink? Take a guess!

Then, find out if you were right! Test your prototype by attaching the life vest to the model dog as quickly as possible. Place the dog into the water and see whether or not the dog's head can stay afloat in the tub of water for at least 10 seconds.  

During the test, you may find things that work and others that don’t. So, after testing, make sure to ask yourself: How could you improve the prototype?

Then, improve your prototype using what you’ve learned. Once you have a new version, test it again to see if your changes worked!

Once you’ve created your life vest or any type of prototype, you can share it with others. They can help you to think of new ideas and look for ways to make your prototype even better.

And that’s it! You’ve completed a design challenge from the  Cadette Think Like an Engineer Journey!  You’ve learned about the Design Thinking Process and used the steps to engineer a prototype of a life vest.

If you had fun with this design challenge, check out the other activities in the Think Like an Engineer Journey. Or, explore more about engineering and computer science with the Robotics badges. 

Courtesy of the Museum of Science, Boston. Adapted from the Engineering is Elementary, Go Fish: Engineering Prosthetic Tails. ©2014, 2016 Museum of Science.

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Adapted from the Cadette Think Like an Engineer Journey - Meeting 3, Activity Contact your troop leader or your local Girl Scout council to become a Girl Scout and learn all the requirements needed to earn the award badge.