Grade Range
3rd-5th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Civil Engineering
Key Concepts
Engineering design
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a paper tower based on specific criteria.
  • Iteratively test and modify the tower to improve its performance.
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Overview

Teach your students about the engineering design process with this fun lesson plan. They will design and build the tallest possible tower using nothing but paper and tape, but there's an additional twist on this classic activity. The tower must support a heavy weight at the top without collapsing! Optionally, they can enter their designs in the 2021 Fluor Engineering Challenge for a chance to win a cash prize for your school! Teachers, note that middle school and high school versions of this lesson plan are also available.

Remote learning adaptation: Students can watch the introductory video and follow the instructions on the Student Worksheet to build and test their towers independently at home. If you would like students to work collaboratively, students can share their design ideas and testing results with each other via video conferencing or shared documents and photos iteratively before settling on a final tower to test and submit as their entry.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to service as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggests the elements of the design that need to be improved.
Systems and System Models. A system is a group of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot.

Materials


Materials needed for the 'Paper Tower Challenge' lesson plan.

If you want to enter your design in the 2021 Fluor Engineering Challenge, you can only use the materials listed below.

  • Construction materials
    • Paper (maximum 30 sheets). Printer, construction, graph, and notebook paper are allowed (letter or A4 size; 9" x 12" or 22 x 30-cm construction paper also allowed). Cardstock and newspaper are not allowed.
    • Tape (maximum one roll), maximum 1" (2.5 cm) wide. Clear office tape (e.g. Scotch®), masking, and painter's tape are allowed. Double-sided tape, duct tape, and packing tape are not allowed.
    • Hard, smooth surface, such as table or countertop
  • Tools
    • Scissors
    • Ruler
    • Pencil
    • Metric tape measure or meterstick
    • Stopwatch
  • Unopened can of food, 14–16 oz or 400–450 g. Glass jars are not allowed for safety reasons (they could shatter if they fall off your tower).

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Grade Range
3rd-5th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Civil Engineering
Key Concepts
Engineering design
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a paper tower based on specific criteria.
  • Iteratively test and modify the tower to improve its performance.
Free science fair projects.