Name of Activity Paper Towers
Author STOMP
Keywords towers, constraints, materials, weight, Engineering Design Process, sturdy structures, strong shapes, architect, design, prototype, redesign
Subject Non-LEGO
Grade Level K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time 1 Hour Total
Brief Description Students will build towers out of a limited amount of materials that can hold up a set amount of weight (like a stack of books).
Lesson Objectives: To introduce students to the engineering design process.
To teach students about sturdy structures and strong shapes.
Materials Needed: For each student group:

Activity worksheet
18 inches of tape
5 paper clips
5 index cards
8 sheets of 8-1/2 x 11 paper
Some sort of weight to put on the tower (like a stack of books)

Preparation and Set Up: – Arrange students into groups of 2.
– Gather materials and photocopy worksheets.
– Make a poster or handouts of the engineering design process.
Necessary Background The engineering design process is an eight step process that engineers use to design

1. Identify the need or problem
2. Research the need or problem
3. Develop possible solution(s)
4. Select the best possible solution(s)
5. Construct a prototype
6. Test and evaluate the solution(s)
7. Communicate the solution(s)
8. Redesign

You can highlight any of the following vocabulary in this lesson:

Engineering design process

  1. Begin the lesson by introducing the engineering design process. Explain how students will use the engineering design process in their lesson to construct a tower out of paper:
    1. Identify Problem: You need to build a tower that will support a weight (stack of books).
    2. Research: discuss as a class some ways that you might make your tower sturdy, like how to distribute the weight, what shapes might help you, etc.
    3. Develop Possible Solutions: The class will draw out some possible designs on a sheet of papers.
    4. Select the Best Possible solution(s): Student groups should discuss their ideas and select one design to actually build.
    5. Construct a Prototype: Students will build their towers
    6. Test and evaluate: Students will test their designs by placing the weight on their towers. Students can either tests their designs as they finish, or each group can test in front of the class when everyone has finished building. How much weight can the tower hold?
    7. Communicate the solution(s): Have students share their designs. Discuss as a class the following questions:
      1. What designs seemed to work the best?
      2. What were some ways that towers failed?
        1. did they tip over or crush?
      3. What were some shapes that worked best to hold the towers?
      4. What materials seemed to be most useful?
    8. Redesign: In this activity students will not actually redesign their structures, but you should discuss as a class how different groups might improve their designs.
Extensions: Have students redesign their towers. How does the second tower’s performance compare to the first? What were some design changes?
Reference 1
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2 Responses to Paper Towers

  1. We did this in Columbus School’s 4th grade classroom taught by Mr. Plati. The students were very engaged with the activity and they enjoyed the hands-on aspect. They were able to understand the engineering design process although they were much more eager to build than to brainstorm and design on paper. However, we ensured that each pair had drawn out and written a small paragraph on their design before they were able to retrieve their materials. About half of the students were able to make successful structures, and a debrief following testing allowed us to identify certain characteristics that enabled sturdiness and durability.

  2. We did this at Linden STEAM Academy with a group of fourth graders. Unknown to us, they had already done this activity in another class, but we were able to use the engineering design process to show how they could take their designs from the last time they did it and improve upon them. We got some amazing towers and everyone was participating and engaged the duration of the lesson.

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