Why is This Tower Project the Best Ever Challenge?

One of the best challenges you can try in your STEM class is one we have done over and over again. This one is a kid-favorite and a teacher-favorite. There are several reasons you will love this challenge, but I will let a fifth grader explain it better.

"Oh man, our tower was, like 30 cm tall, and then we saw one leg buckling, and we knew it was over. The whole thing crashed. We gotta rebuild, but I have another idea!"

And, by the way, when I inquired about the new idea I was told that they noticed the buckling tower leg and knew those sections needed to be built differently. Folks, this is what it means to learn from your mistakes! And that is just one of the reasons this the best ever challenge? Keep reading!


This is the Best STEM Challenge for Grades 3-5 for many reasons!

Here's a quick look:
  • Materials are easy to gather, easy to prepare, and inexpensive.
  • Students use a blueprint for construction.
  • Problem-solving is intense as the precarious structures are built. (Which results in learning!)
  • Kids and teachers love this challenge.

Materials are easy-peasy!


There are only two materials used in this challenge. Each group is supposed to get a specific number of each, but I learned a long time ago that counting out endless amounts of tiny things for multiple classes is for the birds!  Trust me, it is okay to scoop the supplies into cups and give each team a cup full. The photos above show the kids with their cups of materials!

You might have a student that will sit and count these and ask for additional ones, but this rarely happens with me. If someone does run out of either material I just give them a little more. That also rarely happens.

Can you use a blueprint?

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. They also must use a blueprint!

I always have students sketch their ideas before beginning construction. They automatically do this. I have found, however, that groups rarely stick to the blueprint. As structures are being built kids will quickly alter plans to fix problems that happen. With this challenge, I changed one of the rules!

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. They also must use a blueprint!

The rule change simply said,

"Draw a blueprint of your tower and you must use the blueprint for the construction. Improving will take place later."

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. They also must use a blueprint!

So, could they do this? Scroll back and look at the above photos! Yes, they can do it! Their towers match the blueprints very well! I might also add that my students loved the blueprint requirement!

Improve Student Learning with STEM

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. The problem solving with this one is intense!

How do you prevent the leaning of the tower? Well, unless you are making the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you have to do something when the structure begins to lean.This is where students learn! When structures fail, they have to rethink and redesign and improve!

Above you can see a team that added some legs to the front of their tower in the improving step of the engineering design process. Did this help? Was the problem solved?

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. The problem solving with this one is intense!

What was really interesting is how they were able to add another level and more 'blocks' on the side to make the structure larger. All because of those two legs propping it all up! Problem-solving in this challenge is amazing!

Why Students (and Teachers) Love This Challenge

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. Two different materials can be used for the connectors in this challenge- making it very versatile!


This challenge originally used modeling dough instead of marshmallows. Let me just tell you that these two materials work very differently. It changes the challenge into TWO challenges!

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. Two different materials can be used for the connectors in this challenge- making it very versatile!

Students still have the same problems with the towers leaning and materials being precarious to use, but play dough and marshmallows add different elements.
  • Marshmallows are sticky and very soft. They tend to work immediately, but will begin to allow the structure to sag- slowly.
  • Modeling dough is heavy! This makes the tower collapse easily.

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. Two different materials can be used for the connectors in this challenge- making it very versatile!

Are you convinced? It's the perfect challenge to use as the first one you ever try! The materials can be varied slightly to produce different results. It can be used it with many ages. It's inexpensive. It's fun! 

Best challenge ever! 

Read more about it right here:

STEM Challenge: Using two materials students build a tower. Two different materials can be used for the connectors in this challenge- making it very versatile!

More Amazing STEM Challenges Your Students Will LOVE

Click on any of the images below to read about more STEM challenges from other STEM educators.



 

1 comment

  1. I have been devouring your blog. I just accepted at STEM position at a K-5 school and I'm excited and nervous! Your blog has helped me think through organization, materials, and activities to do with students. I plan on using the Engineering Design Process for our engineering challenges. Here's my question for you, when and what grade do you start having the kids do pencil/paper planning (i.e. the blueprint)?
    Thanks so much!

    ReplyDelete

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