Hands-on Activity: Newspaper Tower

Contributed by: Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $1.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Geometry, Science and Technology

Summary

Student groups are challenged to design and construct model towers out of newspaper. They are given limited supplies including newspaper, tape and scissors, paralleling the real-world limitations faced by engineers, such as economic restrictions as to how much material can be used in a structure. Students aim to build their towers for height and stability, as well as the strength to withstand a simulated lateral "wind" load.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

A photograph shows two twin skyscrapers with a horizontal bridge connecting them midway.
The Petronas Towers.

Engineering Connection

Students act as civil engineers as they design and build newspaper towers. They must pay particular attention to designing the tower to withstand the forces of high winds, a problem that students may not have considered in the construction of tall buildings.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify which designs can and cannot withstand the self-weight of the newspaper tower as well as a lateral wind load.
  • Explain how their towers worked to withstand the lateral wind load using terms learned in other lessons within this curricular unit if applicable or general engineering terms.

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.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

Alignment agreement:

There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

Alignment agreement:

  • Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered. (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (Grade 6) More Details

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  • Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Structures rest on a foundation. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (Grade 6) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern with reference to the context in which the data were gathered. (Grade 6) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8) More Details

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  • Explain the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces acting on an object (including friction, gravity and magnets). (Grade 7) More Details

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Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

  • newspaper
  • office tape
  • scissors
  • meter stick

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Introduction/Motivation

Today, your engineering design challenge is to design and construct a model tower using only newspaper and tape and scissors. Your team will be given limited supplies and a time limit. The tower must be as tall as you can make it, but also stable enough to stand up to a wind load since it will be built in a hurricane-prone region.

Your task mirrors the challenges that engineers are given in the real world—with objectives, requirements and constraints such as budgets, material limitations and deadlines. An engineering team that can design a structure to meet the objectives with the fewest materials (hence, less cost), is favored over other companies that cannot utilize the given materials as effectively.

When you are brainstorming about your design approach in your teams, think about the real skyscrapers you have seen as inspiration, including the tallest buildings and towers in your home town. What are their shapes? What are their foundations like?

(Move on to provide students with details provided in the Procedure section so that they understand how much material they may use and how much time they have.)

Procedure

Background

Several solutions to this design challenge are more obvious that others, although students can definitely surprise you with unexpected designs that work quite well.

  • Rolling several small tubes to attach to the bottom or a central tube of newspaper is a good design. The cylinder acts to allow the tower to have the wind go around the building. The more narrow and slender the tower is at height the better it is able to withstand the "wind" because less surface exists for the wind to act upon.
  • Another solution is a tripod type design. While the majority of the newspaper is used to build up, toward the bottom, three tightly wound newspaper rolls extend down from the tower to the table at an angle. This gives the tower more resistance against toppling in the wind load.
  • Another solution involves having a very wide base for the tower to sit on, like a foundation.

With the Students

  1. Divide the class into groups of three students each.
  2. Distribute scissors around the classroom for students to share. Give each group 12 inches (30 cm) of tape and three full sheets of newspaper.
  3. Give teams 20 minutes to test different designs.
  4. After 20 minutes, students are allowed to return all their materials to the teacher in exchange for another 12 inches (30 cm) of tape and three more sheets of newspaper.
  5. Give students an additional 25 minutes of construction time.
  6. TESTING: Measure and record the height of the final tower. Then step away from the tower so it is at arm's length and blow out a full breath to simulate a hurricane. A successful tower will not topple over. Make sure the tower is not secured to a table, the floor or any other piece of furniture or wall. As an additional component, set the fan to a given speed and place the fan 3 feet from the tower and move closer until the tower falls. Then have students plot the height of the tower (independent) vs.the distance between the fan and tower (dependent); discuss any patterns.
  7. Have students determine the median and mean height of all towers. Ask students to discuss any patterns.

Vocabulary/Definitions

buckling: When a column fails by bending at some point in the height of the column, usually towards the midpoint caused by a vertical force.

bundled tube : The design principle that the Sears Tower is built on. The building is basically a collected bunch of tubes, with all the supporting columns of each "tube" located on the perimeter of the tube. This structure is very good at resisting wind loads.

civil engineering : The field of engineering pertaining to non-moving structures such as roads, sewers, towers, buildings and bridges.

deflection : The amount a structure bends or moves from its "at rest" position.

lateral force: A force that impacts a structure horizontally (that is, wind and earthquakes).

tube-style support: Implemented on building such as the World Trade Center, Sears Tower, and many newer structures. The majority of the supporting columns are mover to the perimeter of the tower instead of spread throughout. This allows open expanses of floor space on every floor.

Assessment

Concluding Analysis: Have students explain how their towers work to resist the "wind" load, using engineering terms learned from earlier in the lesson, or from other lessons within the curricular unit if applicable.

Graphing: Have students plot tower heights on a histogram or boxplot. 

Results Debriefing: Have students discuss as a class what designs did and did not work and why that was so. Examples of successful design approaches included: triangular base, wide base, small tower surface area, tubes, etc. Examples of unsuccessful design approaches include: large flat surfaces for tower sides, small bases, etc.

Safety Issues

Watch that students are careful with the scissors.

Troubleshooting Tips

If students are struggling, consider allowing more time or providing more materials.

If students are struggling for design ideas, suggest they think about tall buildings they may have seen in cities or in their own towns that have cylindrical shapes or large foundations or triangular trusses for support. If necessary, suggest more specifics, such as the idea of rolling the paper for strength and/or using a triangular or wider base.

Activity Extensions

Have students try building newspaper towers for height only or to support an object. Have them then compare the differences in design between towers designed to hold vertical vs. lateral loads, and between towers that are not designed to hold any weight but their own.

Activity Scaling

  • For younger kids, allow more time and materials, and suggest some design ideas.
  • For high school students, allow less time and fewer materials, or have them use only one sheet of letter-sized paper but more time. In addition to the tower height, independent variables upon which to focus could be angle of support legs, number of support legs, length of support legs, base diameter to height ratio, and/or total mass of tower.

References

Building Big. PBS. Accessed June 25, 2004. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/

Contributors

Kelly Devereaux and Benjamin Burnham

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University

Supporting Program

Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Acknowledgements

This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: October 2, 2019

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