Engineer a Coin Sorter – Activity


Students learn about the Students learn about the technology plan process and how it is used to engineer products for everyday habit. Students individually brainstorm solutions for sorting coins and draw at least two design ideas. They work in small groups to combine ideas and build a coin sorter using common construction materials such as cardboard, tape, pale yellow and framework. Students test their coin sorters, make revisions and suggest ways to improve their designs. By designing, build up, testing and improving mint sorters, students come to understand how the engineering invention work is used to engineer products that benefit society . This engineer course of study aligns to following Generation Science Standards ( NGSS ) . Photo shows stacks of coins. What ‘s the best coin sorter ? copyright

Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved.

Engineering Connection

Engineers use the mastermind design processes to create products we use daily. Everything from milk cartons to cars and toys were engineered using the steps of the engineer design process : ask, research, think, plan, create, test and improve .

Learning Objectives

After this natural process, students should be able to :

  • Explain that the engineering design process is iterative and explain how it improves the final product.
  • Explain that design is driven by function; form is secondary.
  • Suggest areas of improvement for the product (coin sorter) they create.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should be able to accurately measure the diameters of the coins .


( Hand out the What Do You Think ? Pre-Assessment Worksheet and have students individually complete it before beginning the action. )
A group of students ran a lemonade stand on their block all summer long. They called their caller Cold & Tasty and charged 58 cents a glass. They accumulated buckets of change. Cold & Tasty wants to hire you as aspiring engineers to design a coin sorter to help them sort their buckets of change .
( Bring out a very large jar of coins. ) Who wants to sort this jolt of change ?
( Divide the class into groups of two or three students each. Give each group a handful of change and ask them to sort and count it using a reliable method acting. Ask them to summarize their processes [ how they did it ] on blank paper or whiteboards. )
How would we go about designing a device to mechanically sort these coins for us ? ( Use this as an introduction to the design action. Either draw the engineering design process diagram on the board or show them the picture below. )

As engineers, we first gear ask what the problem is and then imagine solutions. adjacent, we plan our design by drawing it out on newspaper and build it. Engineers always try to improve their designs so we will test our coin sorters and improve our designs to provide our customer, Cold & Tasty, with the best product possible .
( Bring out buckets of coins from Cold & Tasty. ) today, you ‘re going to step into the shoes of an engineer and invention devices to sort the change for Cold & Tasty. Let ‘s have started .


Engineers use the technology design summons to invent and improve technologies, objects and systems. The engineer design process includes seven authoritative steps :

  1. Ask: What is the problem? What have others done?
  2. Research: What information is out there?
  3. Imagine: What is the best solution? Brainstorm ideas.
  4. Plan: Draw a diagram. List the materials you need.
  5. Create: Follow your plan and test it out.
  6. Test: Put your prototype to the test! Get user feedback. 
  7. Improve: How can you improve your design? Go back to step 1.

Before the bodily process

  • Gather materials.
  • Make copies of the What Do You Think? Pre-Assessment Worksheet, Engineer a Coin Sorter Math Worksheet and Engineer a Coil Sorter Design Worksheet, one each per student.

With the Students
1. Have students complete the Pre-Assessment Worksheet ( as described in the Assessment section ) .
2. Divide the class into groups of two or three students each .
3. Conduct the Introduction/Motivation section. Bring out a very large jar of coins, saying “ Who wants to sort this jar of change ? ” Engage the students in the simple sort activity by asking each group to sort and count a handful of change. ask students to summarize their processes ( how they did it ) on space paper or whiteboards .
4. Introduce the design cycle. Draw the technology design process diagram on the board. Explain that the engineering design process consists of seven steps and is used by engineers around the world to invent and improve products, technologies, objects, and systems that we use every day .
The steps of the mastermind design action. copyright

Copyright © ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder.

5. Bring out buckets of coins from Cold & Tasty. Ask students to “ put on their engineer hats ” to design devices that can reliably and promptly sort the variety .
6. The first step is to identify the problem. What is the problem we are trying to solve with the coin sorter ? Tell students to spend about five minutes with their group asking each early what the trouble is they are trying to solve. Have them imagine respective solutions by talking about their ideas .
7. Hand out one mathematics worksheet to each student. Have students prepare for their design by measuring the size of the diverse coins. Have them figure out which measurements they will need, make the measurements and record them on the worksheet. ( The worksheet asks students to calculate the differences between measurements. Some students may require prompt that “ difference ” means subtraction. )
8. Hand out one design worksheet to each scholar. Explain that the worksheet contains two sides : the front is to be completed BEFORE construction begins and the back is to be completed AFTER the coin-sorter has been built.

9. Have students complete the battlefront of the worksheet by going through the third and one-fourth steps of the engineering blueprint process by imagining and planning their mint sorters. Have them share ideas with their group and draw their designs with labels indicating material choices. Allow enough time ( ~15-20 minutes ) for students to complete detail drawings .
10. While students are working, ask the follow questions to the groups :

  • How will your coin-sorter work?
  • What properties of the coins can you use to sort them?
  • What materials will you use for each part of your design?

11. Be certain students have completed drawings before handing out materials .
12. direct groups to begin creating their designs. Encourage students to test their designs during the construction process .
13. Once students are done building their coin sorters, have them test and improve their designs .
14. Allow enough time for students to complete the worksheet ( back side ) and uninfected up .
15. conclude with the post-activity assessments ( see Assessment section ) — individual design cycle reflections and class presentations by groups .
Photo shows a shoe box standing up vertically, with a funnel opening cut through the top and cardboard levels taped inside the box with variously-sized holes, and coins caught at every level. Example scholar designed and built coin sorter. copyright

Copyright © 2009 Jake Crosby, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder.


mastermind design process : An iterative, bit-by-bit process used in engineer to design and improve technologies, objects and systems : 1 ) ask, 2 ) think, 3 ) plan, 4 ) create, and 5 ) better .


Pre-Activity Assessment
Accessing Prior Knowledge : Have students complete the What Do You Think ? Pre-Assessment Worksheet. Use this appraisal to understand students ‘ ideas about how casual products are designed by engineers. It is not meant to test whether or not students can memorize and recite the steps of the engineering plan cycle .

  • Write a one sentence statement about what engineers do.
  • Write the steps you think engineers take when they design a new product.

activity Embedded assessment
worksheet : Have students complete the front man of the Engineer a Coin Sorter Design Worksheet before they begin building and the back of the worksheet after they have built their coin sorters, to document their natural process. Review their answers to gauge their command of the discipline .
Post-Activity Assessment
Design Cycle Reflection : What steps do engineers take to design new products ? Write ( or draw ) —in your own words—the steps engineers take. For each step, write one sentence about why that gradation helps engineers create better products. The finish of this judgment is identify student thinking about the plan process. Probe them to express their experiences and ideas about the process rather than parroting back the exact terminology of the design serve steps. ( possible answers : Engineers first ask to identify the problem or need they are solving and research  what has already been done to make certain they learn everything they can about the issues, and to not re-invent the bicycle. then they brainstorm ( or imagine ) as many options as possible to incorporate ideas from many points-of-view therefore as to increase creativity and invention. future, engineers pick the best solution and plan their designs. Planning leads to smart use of materials, clock time and fund, thereby increasing efficiency and helping to optimize performance under these constraints. After they plan, engineers iteratively create, test,  and improve. Testing makes sure it works and brings up problems and issues that were n’t thought of earlier. many iterations help to make the final product a better product. )
class presentation : Have students discuss the pursuit topics within their groups. Assign one subject to each group and have students present their answers to the class .

  • Describe what questions your group asked at the beginning of this activity. (Possible answer: Expect students to explain the problems they are trying to solve and what other solutions already exist.)
  • What did your group imagine before you started planning? (Possible answer: Expect students to explain the different ideas they discussed before drawing their designs.)
  • Describe your group’s plan. (Possible answer: Expect students to show their diagram and explain the materials they planned to use and why.)
  • How did you create your design? Did your plan change at all? (Possible answer: Expect groups to explain their building processes and what changed from their initial designs.)
  • Suggest changes that would improve the coin sorter. (Possible answer: Expect students to explain ways to redesign their coin sorters to improve their function.)

Troubleshooting Tips

Students modern to the design serve much get hung up on what “ it ” is going to look like ( form ) before they focus on how “ it ” works ( functions ). Address this if you see it happening. Use guiding questions to prompt students to focus on function—form follows function. Aesthetics is an important character of the design process, but no one wants a “ pretty ” product that does not perform .
Students besides much forget about the iterative nature of blueprint. Engineers go through many brainstorm-create-test-improve cycles before arriving at a final product .
The diameters of the different coins have minimal mutant ( at the mm level ). But, if students use size to sort the coins, they must be accurate ; differently, they might run into the problem of larger coins plugging up the smaller holes. Help them trouble shoot this issue. Doing this is all depart of the engineering summons, so it can be a great education consequence .

Activity Extensions

promote students to make a “ business ” using their coin sorters. Have students offer to sort a parent, sibling, neighbor or ally ‘s loosen switch jar. Students could “ charge ” a 5 % tip on however much money they count with their sorters. ask students who do this activity extension to report their results to the class .

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, provide a lot of guidance during the planning and creating steps.
  • For upper grades, have students create a design that not only sorts coins, but also stacks them in paper coin tubes.


Coin Sorter. Activities from the Show, Engineering : design It, ZOOM by kids, for kids, PBS Kids. Accessed February 3, 2010. ( activeness inspiration ) hypertext transfer protocol : //
The Engineering Design Process. Engineering is Elementary, Boston Museum of Science, Boston, MA. Accessed February 17, 2010. hypertext transfer protocol : //


© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado .


Megan Schroeder ; Stephanie Rivale

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library course of study were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education ( FIPSE ), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. however, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government .
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