Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Civil Engineering
Key Concepts
Engineering design, compression, tension, trusses, beams
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 elementary 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:
  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Undertake a design project, engaging in the design cycle, to construct and/or implement a solution that meets specific design criteria and constraints.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
Structure and Function. Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

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
6th-8th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
2-3 hours
Total Time
2-3 hours
Area of Science
Civil Engineering
Key Concepts
Engineering design, compression, tension, trusses, beams
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.