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The Challenge

Many “Barbie-style” dolls cannot stand on their own small, tip-toe feet without plopping over. The challenge is to design the most fashionable and removable shoes that correct the doll’s structural instability. The shoes often have to be a high boot with a wide base – but there is no right or wrong way to do it. If it jumpstarts a kid to have fun with an engineering project and start thinking about things like “center of mass” and “equilibrium”, then it’s a victory. (More information about the instructional materials and future video tutorials about physics and engineering can be found here.)

If you successfully devise a shoe contraption that allows your your doll to stand upright on its own, send us a picture of the doll, and/or any designs or sketches, and we’ll feature our favoritess on our website!


Engineering comes from the Latin words meaning to “cleverly devise” – and as we look at the “E” in STEM, I came up with the idea of propping up a Barbie doll, who is so badly unrealistically designed that she would be 5’9’ with a size 3 shoe.  Worse, she’s in a permanent tip toe, with the base of her foot being a mere **** wide. So in a nutshell, she cannot stand on her own without immediately falling over. The engineering challenge: create some kind of shoe or boot that, when worn, allows the doll to stand independently.

Age- appropriate Engineering Challenges

The lessons are tiered, so the methods span between Play-Doh to using a Stereolithographic  3D printer.

So the latest “Doll STEM” project is to think about engineering with hands-on exercises that build upon each other. For example:

Age 4-6:

Footwear could be made by simply taking two mounds of play doh and sticking her feet in each one and molding it until she stands.  If you want to get ambitious, you can try to make a removable shoe.  Video tutorials explain the exercise and use it to illustrate ideas about gravity and force in a fun way. Ideally with puppets and songs.

Age 8:

Moldable plastic. Requires some planning and ability to handle a very warm material, that can mix with other materials, like wood or metal. More challenges can be added by trying to make the footwear as small and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Variations of the video above can add scientific context to the project.

Age 12:

Download the basic 3D model of the foot, or a sample minimal slipper, and follow along with some Tinkercad tutorials that have been created specifically for this challenge.


Learn more about the project here: 


Shoe Design Engineering Challenge