Follow the 10 steps below to do the 2023 Science Buddies Engineering Challenge with your students! This year’s challenge is the Ping Pong Pickup Challenge. Getting a high score requires creative thinking and engineering to make a device that can pick up a ping pong ball from a set distance and return it to the starting line. How far away will your students’ devices reach?

The 2023 Ping Pong Pickup Challenge is an exciting way to have students try engineering. As they design, build, test, and improve their devices, students will be using the engineering design process and building confidence in themselves as engineers.

With separate worksheets and lesson plans available for elementary, middle, and high school, as well as individual student project directions, the 2023 Engineering Challenge is designed to get students of all ages excited about engineering. The challenge is accessible for students at all grade levels, around the world, and in a wide range of learning environments, including the classroom, at home, or in out-of-school and community programs.

Ready to get started?

10 Steps to Do the Ping Pong Pickup Challenge with Students


Introduce the Ping Pong Pickup Challenge and watch the video overview.


Grab the directions. Directions for the 2023 Science Buddies Engineering Challenge are available in multiple formats. Lesson plans include a worksheet students can use to document their Ping Pong Pickup Challenge project and solution. The rules, materials, and scoring are the same, so use the copy most applicable to your student(s):


Review the steps of the
Engineering Design
and watch the Engineering Design Process video.

Tip! Reviewing the Engineering Design Process will help students understand how to approach designing, testing, and iterating to troubleshoot and improve their devices. For additional resources, see 4 Ways to Teach Engineering Design.


Review the rules for the 2023 Ping Pong Pickup Challenge and the allowable materials. The challenge uses simple materials, including paper, tape, paperclips, and string, which makes gathering materials easy! (Materials are listed in the lesson plan or project directions. If students have additional questions, consult the Ping Pong Pickup Challenge FAQ.)

Tip! Make sure all students understand how materials will be counted when calculating the final score for their devices. Finding a balance between materials costs and the distance achieved with a device is part of the challenge!


Brainstorm and sketch ideas. Have students sketch ideas for their Ping Pong Pickup Challenge devices, including design elements that can help them achieve greater distance or will be used to pick up and release the ball. The overview video shows some examples, but there are lots of ways students might approach designing a device to pick up the ball. After thinking about multiple options, have students choose the design they think will result in a device that will be stable over the longest distance. (Tip!: The worksheet included with the educator lesson plans helps guide students through this brainstorming process.)


(Optional) Team up!
Students can work in teams of 1-4 on their solutions. This is a great way to practice teamwork and communication skills! When they pool their ideas and troubleshooting, they have the benefit of multiple perspectives. Plus, working together to solve the challenge is a lot of fun!


Pick a team name. No matter what size the team is, it needs a name!


Design, build,
test, and iterate
. Remind students that engineering involves building, testing, and making design changes to work out problems and to continue to improve how their devices work. Designs don’t always work the first time. Troubleshooting and making changes is part of the engineering process! Be sure to encourage early testing and allow time for students to make changes to try to improve their devices based on their tests.


Finish building and record scores. Set a deadline for students to complete their devices. Review the testing protocol and how to calculate final scores. Have students record their longest successful distance and calculate their final score. To enter the contest, students will need their final score, distance, and two photos, one showing the full device and one closeup of how the device picks up the ball.

What about video? Video footage documenting the Ping Pong Pickup Challenge is not required, but it is always fun to see! If you share videos in social media, be sure to tag us and also add #PingPongPickupChallenge and #ScienceBuddiesEngineeringChallenge.


Enter for a chance to win!
Submissions for the 2023 Ping Pong Pickup Challenge will be accepted through March 19, 2023. All K-12 students/teams, regardless of location, are invited to submit their solution.

Students in listed geographic regions, including the United States, Canada, and Australia, will be automatically entered in random drawings for prize money to be awarded to the winning team’s school or organization. (Note: See the Engineering Challenge page for rules, eligibility, and complete prize information.)

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