Do You Want To Build a Treehouse?


A tree house, a free house,
A secret you and me house,
A high up in the leafy branches
Cozy as can be house.
A street house, a neat house,
Be sure to wipe your feet house
Is not my kind of house at all-
Let’s go live in a tree house.”

~ Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

The unit that I have been doing with the kindergarten and Grade 1 classes is on Paper and Wood. I decided it would be a great opportunity to adapt a previous lesson that I documented at the Shaw School in order to explore this unit. Using the four domains –Reading, Listening, Speaking, Writing – as well as the engineering design process and a project-based approach framed through the Mission Hill Habits of Mind, the students designed and created their treehouses out of different forms of media. Throughout this project, students were reminded about the positive role of feedback in this process.


From the Engineering Is Elementary Project at the Museum of Science


ASK: Design your own treehouse.

IMAGINE:  Students came up with ideas of what they wanted their treehouse to look like, as well as how they wanted their treehouse to function.We looked at treehouses around the globe, read stories about treehouses (such as Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends), and conducted research online. Just like with the Shaw School, a lot of the students at the East Boston EEC became fascinated with ziplines and wanted to incorporate them into their treehouses.

PLAN: Student put their ideas onto grid paper and labeled their concepts. Grade 1 worked on 1st/2nd/3rd drafts of their treehouse design. All students received feedback by presenting their blueprints to their classmates using the “Feedback is kind, specific and helpful” protocol. I took their blueprints to the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and had the designs etched onto thin pieces of wood. We are still in the process of laser etching the blueprints for one of the classes.


“My brain worked really hard to think of my treehouse design. Then I had to draw the idea from my brain. Then I had to write my words so people would know what I drew. Then I had to write words into my sentences and then finally I drew my sketches. I didn’t do all of this in one day because it took weeks to finish it. I’m proud of my work and I was able to change what I wanted because I first used pencil. I used the felt marker to trace over the pencil. Phew!!! The End.”

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Ms. Alicia using the laser cutter at Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach to etch treehouse blueprints onto wood for the kindergarten students.


CREATE: Students formed collaborative groups to construct models of their treehouses in the school hallway using huge straws. Afterwards, they recreated treehouses on tabletops and the floor using different types of blocks, such as wooden blocks and Legos. They used labels to explain different parts of their designs on the treehouse models. For students who wanted to add a zipline to their project, they were given the chance to create the passenger out of Lego blocks.

Hover your mouse over the following images to view the comments that students made regarding their projects!


Angel from Brazil designed his zipline with a passenger “…who looks like me and my family”.


IMPROVE: Students participated in a Gallery Walk of the structures that their peers created. In the Gallery Walk, students walked around, looked at the structures, and provided feedback. They also provided feedback on their own projects, and gave very interesting insights (you can follow this by hovering your mouse over the images below).

No ‘I’ In “Team”

The students had some key takeaways on the value of cooperation and collaboration (hover over the images below to view them):


“This is the ‘Research Tree house’, where kids can do their own research. We had out own ideas about what we wanted to design and build. Some of us looked at our blueprints and then built certain parts. Ms. Alicia showed us pictures of treehouses in Africa, Brazil, Italy, China, Japan, USA, and other countries. We got some ideas from those tree houses, too. We built platforms, too, so that our Lego people could land safely. We also looked at pictures that were drawn in the 13-Story Tree House book and the rest of the other books in the series. We learned a lot and had fun. We don’t want to take them down yet.” Julian, Grade 1

“All I can say is, awesome engineers at work.”  Jahsier, kindergarten student.

“This is as fun as the Children’s Museum. I love Engineering and science classes.” Mateo grade 1, student



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