Cool Dog Houses


Brett R. Strittmatter

Unit Title:

Cool Dog Houses





Estimated Duration:

8-9 days/class periods

Unit Activities:


July 4, 2017

The Big Idea (including global relevance)

Both domesticated and wild animals are reliant (to differing amounts) on human and human interactions with the environment for survival and safety. In 2011 37% of households owned one or more dogs. Over 6.5 million companionship pets enter animal shelters each year and many are simply released into the wild.  Documented cases show that the main reason dogs are released into the wild are due to economic hardships of the owners.  Due to economic hardships in the United States over the last decade or so many domesticated dogs have been released into the wild and animal shelters have become over crowded.  The increase in released pets has created a need for the development of more space to house these dogs at animal shelters or adopt these stray dogs.  Families who take a stray may need to quickly create a space on their property to house such an animal to make it comfortable, happy and compatible with the owner’s living space.  For animals taken in during the hot, spring, summer or fall months it is essential that these dogs have an outdoor space to dwell that is not dangerous to their health.


The Essential Questions:

Why don’t we just take the abandoned dog to an animal shelter?

Why can’t the dog just stay outside all day and night?  Why can’t the dog just stay inside all day and night?

How can we create an outdoor housing structure that is protected from the high air temperature and high level of sunlight exposure during the summer months for any type of dog?

How long are we allowed to keep the stray dog?

Do we have to feed the dog?


Justification for Selection of Content:

✓ Students previously scored poorly on standardized tests, end-of term test or any other test given in the school or district on this content.

✓ Misconceptions regarding this content are prevalent.

✓ Content is suited well for teaching via CBL and EDP pedagogies.

✓ The selected content follows the pacing guide for when this content is scheduled to be taught during the school year.  (Unit 1 covers atomic structure because it is taught in October when I should be conducting my first unit.)


The Hook:
  • Students will be shown a short video highlighting a rescued dog.  They will be told a story about the dog in the video and that their parents have allowed them to bring home this stray or another stray dog as long as the dog stays outside.  The story will include the fact that it is summer and very hot outside.  This story will hopefully pull on the students emotions and create a desire to make the coolest (by temperature and design) dog house ever!


  • Students think that cold flows out or off of an object when placed in a space that has a higher temperature- cold heat or cold energy is lost.
  • Warm air temperatures on/near Earth’s surface are due to thermal energy from the Sun.  The Sun is hot and provided heat from long distances to keep the planet warm.  The Earth’s warmth has to do with light energy and not thermal energy from the sun.
  • Bigger is better.
  • Aesthetics are always more important than function.
  • There’s cold energy and hot energy.  ‘Cold’ isn’t just a lack of thermal energy- it is it’s own type of energy.


The Challenge and Constraints:


Description of Challenge (Either Product or Process is clearly explained below):

List the Constraints Applied

Students will construct a structure that can fit a small stuffed animal and maintain the greatest temperature difference between the inside of the enclosure and the outside environment for 15-20 minutes.  The structure must be free-standing and have at least one “door” to put the dog into/out of the house.


**Eng. Teams of three students/team/IEP and non IEP mixed teams

  • Materials
  • Time
  • The structure must fit inside of another container (optional)
  • Must house one internal thermometer that can be checked 
Anticipated Guiding Questions (that apply to the Challenge and may change with student input.):
  • How tall or wide does it have to be?
  • Can we use ice cubes inside?
  • Can we use our own materials we bring into the classroom?
  • Does it have to be a certain distance from the light source?
  • Will the stuffed animal have to stay inside the house during the test?
  • Does it have to be a certain thickness?
  • Is there a limit to the amount of supplies we can use?
  • How far will the lamp be from the top of the dog house (roof)?
  • What materials are best for reducing the intrusion of thermal energy into the dog house.
Engineering Design Process (EDP):

How will students test or implement the solution? What is the evidence that the solution worked? Describe how the iterative process from the EDP applies to your Challenge.

Students will be allowed to test their structures inside of the thermal box at least once (but not limited to one time) for about 10-15 minutes per test session.  Students will know the solution worked if the temperature inside of their houses is less than the temperature outside of the houses.


How will students present or defend the solution?  Describe if any formal training or resource guides will be provided to the students for best practices (e.g., poster, flyer, video, advertisement, etc.) used to present work.

Students will do an inner circle/outer circle activity.  Tables will arranged in a circle/square.  Each team will set up their dog house (solution) along the outside of the circle.  One team member from each group will go on the other side of the table (inside of the circle) and rotate to each team to hear about the dog house.  They will ask each team a small set of questions.  This entire rotation will have to take place three times so that each student has a chance to visit each team’s dog house.


What academic content is being taught through this Challenge?

Students are distinguishing between an open and a closed system.  They are learning about thermal energy transfer into and/or out of a system.  Students are learning how energy is transferred and transformed.  Students are learning that the Sun is the major source of radiation/light energy for the Earth and that this radiant energy, changed to heat, effects the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.  Matter and energy can be transferred to/from an open system.  Students will need to construct a doghouse that is as much of a closed system as possible. 


ACS (Real world applications; career connections; societal impact):

Real world applications:

This challenge will only produce a model or prototype of a thermal resistant dog house.  But the challenge could be taken to the next level and an actual, life sized dog house could be constructed using different materials based on the prototype.  The x was placed in the middle to allow a 50/50 option of creating a usable dog house or not.  Many new businesses have shown up recently in the dog day care market.  These businesses must figure out ways to allow dogs to roam inside and outside the facility and not get too hot or too cold and remain protected from the elements.  This challenge could be extended to include the pro’s and con’s of solar energy usage and application.


What activities in this Unit apply to real world context?

Students must chose materials and the placement of those materials to insulate and keep thermal energy out of a living space.  These same considerations can be used when building a house or redesigning a house although the same materials wouldn’t be used on a real house. 

Societal Impact:

Although there are a lot of stray dogs the engineering teams will not be constructing actual dog houses to help adopt and remove stray dogs from the streets of local communities.


What activities in this Unit apply to societal impact?  

In the Challenge, students must determine ways to better insulate a home or living space.  Better insulated living spaces can reduced energy use for heating/cooling the living space.  Reduced energy use leads to less cost and less carbon dioxide emissions.  


Careers:  What careers will you introduce (and how) to the students that are related to the Challenge? (Examples: career research assignment, guest speakers, fieldtrips, Skype with a professional, etc.)

Students will be introduced to civil engineering as a possible career that could lead to cool dog house applications if our city/state decided to build city-run or state-run dog kennels to help curb the stray dog population.  Veterinarians, dog shelter owners, kennel operators would be interested in these designs.


Unit Academic Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

Science and Engineering Practices:

☒ Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
☒ Developing and using models
☒ Planning and carrying out investigations
☒ Analyzing and interpreting data
☒ Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Crosscutting Concepts:
☒ Cause and effect
☒ Structure and function
Ohio’s New Learning Standards for Science (ONLS):

☒ Designing Technological/Engineering Solutions Using Science concepts (T)

☒ Demonstrating Science Knowledge (D)


Post Implementation- Reflection on the Unit:

During this unit, administrators commented on how engaged the students were.  This is a great, real world activity that gets to the point of describing thermal energy transfer.  Great for teaching that thermal energy travels from hot to colder objects and how coolers keep drinks cold.  Essentially the students are building coolers.  They are attempting to build the best cooler possible with the given supplies.  Students loved hearing how a real cooler actually worked and why it worked that way- great application!


  • The aluminum foil and colored felt lab (activity 4.1.2) - Run a more controlled experiment prior to the next time so that an understanding of accurate results can be used.  
  • My students always collect such terrible data (still working on accuracy) that it's tough to make any authentic conclusions from them.  
  • At  the end of the experiment, we should be able to determine if tightly wrapping foil or loosely wrapping foil (creating an air pocket) will keep a piece of cardboard cooler.  We really weren’t able to make a definitive choice based on the data we collected.
  • Use sheets of house insulation (not fibrous, pink kind) to avoid styrofoam balls all over the place
  • Instead of measuring the temperature difference between the inside and the outside measure the temperature rise of the inside this might be a better indicator
  • 3 students per team works better than 4
  • Look for extruded foam to use instead of the bead foam as bead foam is messy
  • Don’t use the word Doghouse so they come up with another type of design
  • Have additional ring stands for light fixtures (more stations) or another method for suspending light fixtures
  • Use a small styrofoam box (an actual cooler) as a control to compare the temperature changes of the student designed dog houses.


Pre/ Post Test

Additional Resources:

  • Teacher will need an account with Explore to access the Gizmo activity on Light Absorption.  This is a very worthwhile program for your district to look into with thousands of math and science interactive simulations.  Another similar site is the PhET site which has similar interactive simulations.