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Charlottes Web




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Title Author Grade level
Charlotte’s Web E.B. White 4th to 6th grade




Summary of the story :
 The novel tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur (such as "Some Pig") in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.






  • Fern

  • Wilbur ... The Pig

  • Charlotte

  • Templeton ... the Rat

  • Mr. Zuckerman





Possible Design Challenges:
Killing of the runt    Page1
Keeping warm at night in the yard.    Page9
Mr. Zuckerman knew that a manure pile is a good place to keep a young pig    Page14
Wilber was lonely, he wanted love    Page27
Have you ever tried to sleep while sitting on eight eggs asked the goose.    Page 33
“I happen to be a trapper”, says Charlotte     Page39
 An example of finding the science in one of the design challenge of keeping warm at night:

Wilbur’s new home was in the lower part of the barn, directly underneath the cows.  Mr. Zuckerman knew that a manure pile is a good place to keep a young pig.

Why is a manure pile warm and comfortable and the south side of the barn?

 Could design a habitat for Wilbur using paper and glue and simulate plant items for art supply store.

Engr.  Learn how the tools for making things, folding paper for strength, cutting tools, glue are used.
Earth Science:  sun and location for heat and light
Life science:  why is manure warm?  What science process is happening?




Engineering Activity Ideas

Page Number

Engineering/ Science Reference

Activity Idea


Farmer carrying an axe

Simple Machines: Life on the Farm - how Farmers use simple machines to go through their daily chores

axe - wedge (page 14 - list of barnyard tools)


Wilbur needs a new crate

Sturdy Structures: Build a new home for Wilbur - how could you create a crate that could change its size as Wilbur grows?


Description of Mr. Zuckerman’s barn

Sturdy Structures: Design and build a barn that can fit all the animals on the farm

17/ 23

Wilbur escapes under the fence because of a loose board - screw/ bolts/ hammer and nail to fix it

Simple Machines:

Life on the Farm - another example of how farmers use simple machines

36-39/ 55

Charlotte builds her web

Engineering Design Process:

How does a spider engineer her web to fulfill its purpose? What strategies does a spider use to ensure the web will not break?

Build a spider web using popsicle sticks, tape and string.(build a support beam for it to hang on)


Examining the structure and function of Charlotte as a spider


Queensborough Bridge - “Web-like design”

page 60

Engineering Design Process/ Purpose and Function of Design/ Biomimetics:

How is Charlotte herself designed to be good at catching flies and spinning webs? Why is Charlotte able to spin a web and Wilbur cannot? How are all the barnyard animals designed to fulfill their purposes and their methods of survival - Templeton the rat, Wilbur the pig, the goose, etc.? Engineers often examine nature to get ideas on how to design things (biomimetics) - using spider’s strong and waterproof silk strands to design synthetic silk fibers without toxic chemicals.



51/ 64/ 67/ 77

How can Charlotte save Wilbur from his fate at Christmastime?


Charlotte’s Engineering thought process


p. 64 “Never hurry and never worry.”

p. 67 “She felt sure that if she thought long enough about Wilbur’s problem, an idea would come to mind.”

Engineering Design Process:

Define the Problem. - analyze what must be done

Brainstorm possible solutions.

How does Charlotte’s way of thinking represent the mindset of an Engineer? What do you think Charlotte can do - brainstorming session/ potential building lesson.


p. 77 How does Charlotte use her resources to help Wilbur?




Mr. Zuckerman’s Rope Swing

Potential and Kinetic Energy, gravity, acceleration, velocity, a pendulum


Charlotte Weaves “Terrific” into the web

Examining the structural and aesthetic values of how the web was able to stay together, even though many of the middle threads were missing - support systems


Lurvey must build a new crate for Wilbur

Sturdy Structure: another building project to make a sturdy crate for Wilbur


Dr. Dorian says that Spider Webs are Miraculous

How did spiders learn how to make their first webs? Examining and taking a closer look at nature to see what we can learn from its well designed, efficient processes

116-117/ 144

Charlotte the engineer - building an egg sac

What are the characteristic features of the egg sac that Charlotte made to protect the eggs? - strong, waterproof, so eggs stay warm and dry


The Fair - Ferris Wheel

How does the Ferris wheel represent a turning point in Fern’s life? What is symbolic about the wheel?

How does a Ferris Wheel work - looking at the mechanics behind a Ferris Wheel.


“It is not often someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

We should add ... who is a true friend, a good writer, and a clever engineer...Charlotte was all three


Learning about Engineering through the eye of a spider

Engineering our way through Charlotte’s Web

BIOMIMETICS: FROM: http://www.teachengineering.org/view_activity.php?url=http://www.teachengineering.org/collection/cub_/activities/cub_lifescience/cub_lifescience_lesson03_activity2.xml


Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature's best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Studying a leaf to create a more efficient solar cell is an example of nature-inspired design. The premise is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already found solutions to many human design challenges.</¶>

As an approach to problem-solving and design, biomimicry is impacting the way engineers design our products and systems. More and more, engineers are consulting nature's genius to answer pressing questions such as, "How will we harness energy?" or "How will we make our materials?" and "How will we come up with new product designs to compete in a global marketplace?" We are discovering that for every human challenge, nature has a time-tested solution.

is a list of innovations inspired by animals and plants:

      Airplanes modeled after birds (wing and body shapes)

      Swimsuits worn by Olympic athletes that imitate dolphin and shark skin membranes

      Radar and sonar navigation and medical imaging inspired by the echo-location abilities of bats

      Re-usable adhesives inspired by the powerful adhesion abilities of geckos and lizards

      Super-strong and waterproof silk fibers made without toxic chemicals by spiders

      A better ice pick for mountain climbers designed after the woodpecker

      Glow sticks made with light-up chemicals, just like fireflies

      Very efficient pumps and exhaust fans applying the spiraling geometric pattern found in nautilus sea shells, galaxies and whirlpools

Example inventions inspired by plants:

      Hook and loop material (Velcro®) inspired by cockleburs

      Solar cells inspired by plant leaves (photosynthesis, capturing energy from sunlight)

      A wind-driven planetary rover design that maximizes drag, learned from the tumbleweed

      Self-cleaning exterior paint, tiles, window glass and umbrella fabric inspired by the slick leaves of the lotus flower plant and its natural ability to wash away dirt particles in the rain

At the core of these biomimicry applications lie fundamental, intuitive concepts. Derived from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate, biomimicry is not a new way of thinking — we have studied nature for solutions since the beginning of human history. Early human civilizations evolved by play, imitation, and trial and error. If you watch animals in nature, or even small children, you see that they, too, learn by play, imitation, and trial and error. Many indigenous cultures still engage in a more connected relationship with the natural world. They observe animals and birds to learn the best techniques for stalking prey, identifing edible foods, and predicting weather changes. Some of our early inventions were discovered by watching nature; for example, the airplane (inspired by birds of flight) and Velcro® (invented in 1948 by a Swiss mountaineer who returned from a hike covered in burrs).

In essence, biomimicry provides a holistic framework for engineering design that challenges us to look beyond what we see in the human-made environment to the more subtle designs found in nature. These subtle designs can lead to innovative materials and products that have never before existed.



  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2011
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