Water Fountain

This lesson demonstrates how a hydraulic pump works. Students work in teams to design and build a unique water fountain that employs a hydraulic pump.

During this activity students will:

  • Explore hydraulic pumps.
  • Design & build a water fountain.
  • Implement the engineering design process to solve the design challenge.

Age Levels: 10-18

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Build Materials (Trading/Table of Possibilities)

  • Two-liter plastic bottles (straight)
  • One-liter plastic bottles (straight)
  • Plastic tubing (various diameters)
  • Wood skewers
  • Straws (different sizes)
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • Clay or blu tac
  • Rubber bands
  • Waterproof tape

Hydraulic Pump Build Materials

  • Two-liter plastic bottle
  • One-liter plastic bottle
  • Plastic tubing
  • Waterproof tape
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Wooden skewers
  • Clay
  • Xacto knife (for teacher use only)
  • Water
  • Pump
  • Plastic tub

Testing Materials

  • Plastic Tub
  • Water

Testing Process

Test each team’s design by having the students demonstrate how their water fountain works using water and the plastic tub.

Hydraulic Pump Build Materials

  • Two-liter plastic bottle (straight)
  • One-liter plastic bottle (straight)
  • Plastic tubing
  • Waterproof tape
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Wooden skewers
  • Clay
  • X-acto knife (for teacher use only)
  • Water
  • Pump
  • Plastic tub

Hydraulic Pump Instructions

You will need to build a hydraulic pump for a classroom demonstration.

  • Use two empty soda bottles – one smaller than the other (sizes are a variable).
  • Connect the two bottles with a clear plastic tube (diameter is a variable). Cutting the holes for the tube requires an X-acto knife.
  • Place the basic set up into a flat tub for testing.
  • Seal: Use waterproof tape to seal around the tube where it connects to each bottle. Test to make sure the seals are working and that there are no leaks.
  • Pressure: The smaller bottle is the bottle you will add the water to and then apply the pressure.
    • To help apply the pressure, create a “waterproof puck” out of cardboard. Measure the diameter of your smallest bottle and cut out corrugated cardboard circles slightly smaller for the puck. Combine about 6 cardboard circles by covering the group of them with waterproof tape. As soon as the water is applied to the smaller bottle use the puck to exert pressure.
    • Push the puck down into the smaller bottle. (if your hand is too big to fit into the small bottle, attach a wooden skewer into the puck and use it as a handle).
  • Fountain: To keep the lesson as open-ended as possible, don’t add a fountain design into your demo. Simply show the basic set up and have the students create their own innovative designs.
  • NOTE: There are many variables that increase the complexity of this challenge. The size of the small and large bottles, the size and height of the connecting tube, the amount of pressure exerted, and the location and pattern of holes/tubes for the fountain. If you want to decrease the complexity, fix one or more variables.

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers given the challenge of designing and building a creative water fountain for a park in your city.


  • Must function successfully.
  • Must be creative and aesthetically pleasing.


  • Use only the materials provided.
  • Teams may trade unlimited materials.
  1. Break class into teams of 3-5.
  2. Hand out the Water Fountain worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Discuss the topics in the Background Concepts Section. Ask students what kinds of water fountains they have seen and where they have seen them. Give an overview of Pascal’s Principle and Hydraulics using https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/WindTunnel/Activities/Pascals_principle.html
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials.
  5. Provide a demonstration of a Hydraulic Pump (See Testing Materials and Process Section for build instructions)
  6. Provide each team with their materials.
  7. Explain that students must design and build a water fountain that is both functional and creative.
  8. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  9. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  10. Students meet and develop a plan for their water fountain. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class. Teams may trade unlimited materials with other teams to develop their ideal parts list.
  11. Teams build their designs.
  12. Test the water fountain designs
  13. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  14. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go well?
  3. What is your favorite element of your water fountain?
  4. If you had time to redesign again, what changes would you make?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

  • Constraints: Limitations with material, time, size of team, etc.
  • Criteria: Conditions that the design must satisfy like its overall size, etc.
  • Engineers: Inventors and problem-solvers of the world. Twenty-five major specialties are recognized in engineering (see infographic).
  • Engineering Design Process: Process engineers use to solve problems. 
  • Engineering Habits of Mind (EHM): Six unique ways that engineers think.
  • Hydraulic Press: A machine in which great force with slow motion is communicated to a large plunger by means of liquid force into the cylinder in which it moves by a piston pump of small diameter to which the power is applied.
  • Hydraulic Pump: Mechanical source of power that converts mechanical power into hydraulic energy. It generates flow with enough power to overcome pressure induced by the load at the pump outlet.
  • Iteration: Test & redesign is one iteration. Repeat (multiple iterations).
  • Prototype: A working model of the solution to be tested.
  • Water Fountain: A spray of water created by a machine.

Internet Connections

Writing Activity

  • Have students write a poem about a water fountain using figurative language.
  • Have students write an essay about the impact that water fountains, pumps, and hydraulic technology has had in society.

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

Note: Lesson plans in this series are aligned to one or more of the following sets of standards:  

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10 – 14)

 CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

 As a result of their activities, all students should develop an understanding of 

  • Motions and forces  
  • Transfer of energy  

 CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

As a result of activities, all students should develop 

  •  Abilities of technological design  
  •  Understandings about science and technology

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

 CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science  

 As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of 

  • Motions and forces  
  • Interactions of energy and matter  

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

 As a result of activities, all students should develop 

  • Abilities of technological design  
  • Understandings about science and technology  

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-11)

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object. 

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-5-ETS1-1.Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2.Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3.Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages


  • Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.


The city received a financial gift from a resident with specific instructions to use the money to build a water fountain for the local park. The city has asked all schools to design and build a prototype of a water fountain.  The fountain that functions successfully and is the most interesting will be chosen to be built for the park.

Design Challenge

Design and build a creative water fountain.


All designs must:

  • Function successfully.
  • Be aesthetically pleasing.


All designs must:

  • Use only the materials given.

Planning Stage

Meet as a team and discuss the problem you need to solve. Then develop and agree on a design for your water fountain. You’ll need to determine what materials you want to use.

Draw your design in the box below, and be sure to indicate the description and number of parts you plan to use.










Team members:___________________________________________________


Brainstorm designs for your water fountain:

















Choose your best design and sketch it here:


















Construction Phase

Build your water fountain. During construction you may decide you need additional materials or that your design needs to change. This is ok – just make a new sketch and revise your materials list.

Testing Phase

Each team will test their water fountain. If your design is unsuccessful, redesign and test again. Continue until you are happy with it. Be sure to watch the tests of the other teams and observe how their different designs worked.

Sketch your Final Design










Evaluation Phase

Evaluate your teams’ results, complete the evaluation worksheet, and present your findings to the class.

Use this worksheet to evaluate your team’s results in the Water Fountain Lesson:

  1. What went well?










  1. What didn’t go well?










  1. What is your favorite element of your water fountain?










  1. If you had time to redesign again, what changes would you make?






Downloadable Student Certificate of Completion