Hands-on Activity: Design Packing to Safely Mail Raw Spaghetti

Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Photo shows a slivermailbox with the flag up.
Can you safely mail raw spaghetti?
copyright
Copyright © Microsoft Corporation, 1983-2001

Summary

Students use their creative skills to determine a way to safely mail raw (dry, uncooked) spaghetti using only the provided materials. To test the packing designs, the spaghetti is mailed through the postal system and evaluated after delivery.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Packaging engineers are responsible for creating packages for all types of products. They design cardboard boxes that are simply held together with glue and/or tape (or neither), boxes that have intricate folds to increase strength, and protective material used within the boxes. When designing packaging, they consider the size and shape of the object, whether it is fragile, and if it needs special temperature control.

Learning Objectives

  • Students learn about design and packaging techniques.
  • Students learn what happens to mail in the postal system.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Tools, materials, and skills are used to make things and carry out tasks. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The design process is a purposeful method of planning practical solutions to problems. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements for a design include such factors as the desired elements and features of a product or system or the limits that are placed on the design. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The engineering design process involves defining a problem, generating ideas, selecting a solution, testing the solution(s), making the item, evaluating it, and presenting the results. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • When designing an object, it is important to be creative and consider all ideas. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and collect information about everyday problems that can be solved by technology, and generate ideas and requirements for solving a problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the solutions for the design problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Processing systems convert natural materials into products. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify materials used to accomplish a design task based on a specific property, e.g., strength, hardness, and flexibility. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify relevant design features (e.g., size, shape, weight) for building a prototype of a solution to a given problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Materials List

  • raw spaghetti (a handful per group)
    Photo shows jars of dry pasta, including spaghetti.
    copyright
    Copyright © Microsoft Corporation, 1983-2001
  • 8½ x 11-in envelopes, one per group
  • stamps
  • packaging materials, such as newspaper, tissue paper, packing foam, construction paper, bubble wrap
  • tape
  • pencils or pens

Introduction/Motivation

Accidents happen. Sometimes your packages are dropped, and letters get bent. How can you protect a special delivery from such unfortunate mishaps?

Procedure

Background

Sending mail in the postal system is not always the safest. Mail can get bent or dropped, etc. It is up to the students to design safe packaging for the spaghetti.

Recommended Resources:

Postal history (explore all the links): https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/welcome.htm

Postal museum history of "moving the mail": http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2c_moving.html

USPS shipping suggestions, regulations and material descriptions: https://www.usps.com/ship/mail-shipping-services.htm?

Related activity: Designing a Package that Works

Instructions

Gather materials.

Talk with the students about what happens to the mail after it is placed in a post office mailbox. What might happen to a package as it travels through the mail?

  1. Divide the class into into small groups of students.
  2. Give each group a handful of raw spaghetti and an envelope.
  3. Using only the materials provided have teams package the spaghetti so that it is ready to be mailed.
  4. To test the packing approaches, have students mail the spaghetti back to the school. Make sure student teams include their names on the envelope (as the senders) so that when it comes back they will know which is which.
  5. Mail the envelopes.
  6. As a class, open the envelopes and examine the condition of the contents. Ask the Investigating Questions. Compare designs and results. Draw conclusions.

Investigating Questions

  • What packaging worked the best? Why?
  • What is important to keep in mind when packing the spaghetti?
  • What is the best way to pack it?
  • What happened to the spaghetti that did not make it through the mail safely?
  • How can this activity be applied to real-life situations?
  • How many students mailed their spaghetti safely?

Assessment

Rubric for Performance Assessment (doc)

Rubric for Performance Assessment (pdf)

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: August 11, 2017

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