Grade Range
9th-12th
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. The lesson is based on the real-world challenge of designing an observation tower. Can your students maximize the height of the tower while minimizing the amount of material needed to construct it? Optionally, students 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 middle 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:
  • HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
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 an investigation or test a design individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence as part of building and revising models, supporting explanations for phenomena, or testing solutions to problems. Consider possible confounding variables or effects and evaluate the investigation's design to ensure variables are controlled.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
Structure and Function. Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

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
9th-12th
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.