A CIESE Collaborative Project

Ant Day Care Center

In this lesson students will solve the problem: How can we house ants in a structure where we will be able to observe/study them? Students will use the Engineering Design Process to create a suitable container/habitat for keeping and observing ants for one day.
Note : Go to The Museum of Science, Boston for a one page teacher tutorial on using the Engineering Design Process with children.

Students will be able to:

  • Brainstorm several ideas for making an ant habitat.
  • Predict which materials will make the best habitat.
  • Use prior and new knowledge to design the habitat.
  • Compare the suitability of different designs and structures.


  • Small containers (yogurt cups, boxes, jars, milk cartons, shallow bowls, etc)
  • Plastic wrap or cellophane scraps
  • Foil
  • Rubber bands
  • Cardboard/oaktag /manila folders
  • Tape
  • Fabric scraps
  • Paper
  • Index cards
  • Screen/netting
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Sand/soil
  • Hand lenses (for ant study)

Time: One hour for introduction, designing and building. Plan a time within a few days following the lesson to collect the ants for observation and testing of the habitats.



  • Have students generate a list of questions that ant observation will help them answer. For examples: How do they look alike? Do the ants go near one another? Do they seem to be communicating with one another? Can you identify the three body parts?
  • Introduce the problem: How can we house ants so that we can observe them for one for one day?


  • What does an ant need to live? What are some things that must be supplied so that everything they need is in their temporary habitat? The student responses might include, but are not limited to:
    • Air
    • Moisture/Water
    • Container with food (fruit juice, sugar water, honey)
    • Material for the bottom of the container (most ant species live in the soil)
  • What container design would be best suited for observing the ants? Consider all proposals. However, the students should come up with the idea that they must keep the ants from escaping, so there should be a way, such as a window, for the observer to see the ants and allow air to flow through without opening the container.

    Design and Construct

  • Provide constraints:
    • Use only the materials provided.
    • Make the habitat is large enough to hold at least 5 ants, but small enough to fit on a student desk, leaving room for class work.
  • Students work in groups to plan and sketch their ideas.
  • Students build their ant day care centers.

Collect and Observe

  • Collect ants by digging in the soil. You can also find them under rotting logs that and in twigs or branches on the ground. To attract ants, put out a piece of paper or cloth and coat it with honey or jam.
  • Study the ants for a day; test the habitat.
  • Release the ants

Evaluation of Designs

  • Ask the students: Were you able to answer the questions about your ants? Did the habitats suit your purpose? How could you improve on your design?
  • If time allows have the students work on improving their designs.

Additional Resources
Did you know that ants are engineers? They build tunnels from two directions that meet halfway. To learn more about ants, go to the website: The Amazing World of Ants.