Brief Description Students build the tallest tower possible to support a marshmallow. They can use only dry spaghetti and tape.
Subject Types of Engineering, Miscellaneous
Grade Level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Time 1 Hour Total
Lesson Objectives: Depending on your goals for the unit, the lesson objectives may include:

  1. Students will better understand what “engineering” is and practice using the engineering design process.
  2. Students will practice working with constraints. They will be able to identify the constraints in this activity.
  3. Students will be able to describe the properties of strong structures.
  4. Students will begin to realize that it is okay to fail!
Materials Needed:
  • dried spaghetti (10 pieces for every group)
  • masking tape (1 ft for every group)
  • marshmallows (1 per group)
  • measuring tape/yardstick (most classrooms have one)
Preparation and Set Up:
  • Gather necessary materials
  • When in the class, it is recommended that one STOMPer divide up the tape and spaghetti while the other STOMPer explains the activity.
Necessary Background This activity requires no specific background. Many STOMPers use it to introduce the engineering design process.
Procedure
  1. Explain the activity: They will have 15 minutes to build the tallest tower out of 10 pieces of spaghetti and 12 inches of tape. The marshmallow must balance at the top of the tower.  The time limit and the limited amount of materials given are known as constraints. (No, you can’t eat the marshmallows. We will be measuring from to the top of the marshmallow so don’t use it as a base)
  2. Split students into groups of 2-4 students and let them work for 15 minutes. Circulate the classroom and talk about different designs.
  3. At the end of 15 minutes, measure the towers. It is recommended not to
  4. Discuss: What did you have trouble with in this challenge? What do you think you needed to make a better tower? How did you make yours stand up? Did the weight of the marshmallow make any towers collapse? You may also want to revisit and discuss any learning goals for the class.
  5. If time allows, you may repeat the activity. Many classes like to repeat the activity so that they can apply what they have just learned!
Author Laura Fradin, Jake Hellman
Reference 1 http://sites.tufts.edu/stompactivitydatabase/files/formidable/SpaghettiTowersOutline.pdf
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6 Responses to Spaghetti Towers

  1. Profile photo of Devyn  Curley Devyn Curley says:

    Camille and I executed this lesson in Spring ’15 in Mrs. Murphy’s Argenziano 5ht grade classroom as a part of our Structural Engineering via Architectural History. The twist we added was in the problem statement of how to build a teepee that will withstand a storm and earthquake. This began our the overarching story of our curriculum. We performed a skit as tribesman who are currently nomadic and need a sturdy shelter that we can set up and transport easily. We did not use marshmallows, but rather focused on efficient material usage, and the ability to survive an earthquake or a “storm.” The storm was not as functional, but added to the story and the kids loved trying to blow down structures. The students were hooked on the story and to accept the challenges we proposed if they finished early, which was in the form of making a taller tower, or using less materials.

  2. Tanya and I will be using this as our first activity with our 5th grade classroom. We plan to use this activity to introduce the engineering design process. We’ll start out with a general discussion on engineering to see what they already know, and then define the steps of the design process.
    We will decrease the time limit listed in this activity from 15 mins to 10 mins, so that we can run the activity twice. The second time, the students will receive half the resources, and a little less time if needed. By defining and solving a problem for two iterations, the students will learn about teamwork, practice the engineering design process, and understand the importance of material constraints.
    At the end (or as a follow up next week) we will discuss what challenges the students faced and how they overcame them as a a class.

  3. Profile photo of Emily R. Lai Emily R. Lai says:

    Jerry and I used this lesson as our first activity for our 6th-8th grade classroom, as a way to introduce the engineering design process. We started the class by asking the kids what they knew about engineering (we told them it was okay to say “I don’t know”) and we showed a couple of videos about engineering and the engineering design process. In addition to spaghetti and tape, we also gave the kids mini marshmallows to help build their structures, since we did not find any large marshmallows to balance on top of the student’s towers. For the first part of the activity, students got into groups of three and drew initial designs on paper, then built their towers within 15-20 minutes. After time was up, we measured all of the towers, then reconvened as a class to discuss what design aspects did or did not work. Then, students got into groups of 5 to redesign their spaghetti towers, this time with a larger group and with more materials. Students used what they learned from the group discussion to change their initial designs, and they had 20 minutes to make a new design and make a new tower. We ended the activity by having students draw out their version of the engineering design process on posters, in their larger groups.

  4. Erica and I used Spaghetti Towers as our introduction lesson in Ms. Leisk’s 4th grade classroom at the Linden STEAM Academy in Spring 2016. We spent the initial part of the class introducing ourselves to the classroom and re-introducing STOMP (they had STOMP in their classroom the previous semester).
    The students had already completed spaghetti towers as a task the previous semester, so we challenged them to make a structure with fewer spaghetti stands and less tape. However, their last spaghetti towers challenge was slightly different (they were able to use marshmallows to hold the spaghetti together). This confused the students when they were in their design process. We allowed the students to design their structure for 10-15 minutes and build for 10-15 minutes. We’d recommend leaving more time for this activity as the students were rushed for time and many of the groups were unable to finish their structure.
    The students learned about the difficulties of limited resources and limited time.

  5. Sara and I did this activity with 3rd graders in Pam Wickwire’s classroom at the Linden STEAM Academy. There were no marshmallows at the CEEO so we had to only use masking tape. This was very difficult for the 3rd graders and some groups were unable to build towers. It helped them to be able to tape their structure to the table. It was also better to use Scotch tape instead of masking tape. Groups of three were better than groups of four. In the future, we would recommend using marshmallows. We also think that paper towers might be a more age appropriate activity for 3rd graders.

  6. Orian and I did this as our first activity in Mrs. Murphy’s 5th grade class at Argenziano. We spent half the time for our observation and we ran this activity for the remaining 30 minutes. It worked wonderfully and the structures were mostly strong and creative. The discussion at the end was incredibly helpful and everyone was excited to share the design of their towers. The only problem that we had was that we were unclear on if students were allowed to tape their structures to their desks, so they were receiving conflicting information from their teacher and us. However, since this was an intro activity and we were short on time, we never planned to actually measure the towers so we just brought the taping to desks discussion into the recap discussion at the end. We talked about how everyone designed their structures, worked in teams, built their towers, and what they would change for next time. Overall, it was a simple and incredibly fun first lesson!

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