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Lesson: Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Lesson Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Physical Science, Science and Technology

Summary

Students learn about material reuse by designing and building the strongest and tallest towers they can using only recycled materials. Teams brainstorm, sketch the best design and create the towers to meet the design constraints. Then they test their towers in earthquake and high-wind simulations, followed by redesigning, rebuilding and retesting.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

A photograph shows three girls building a tower composed of newspaper, plastic tubs and tape, with a tennis ball on top.
A completed "recycled tower."

Engineering Connection

As the movement to reduce, reuse and recycle gains momentum, many engineers have become increasingly focused on incorporating reused and recycled materials into building designs. Civil, mechanical and environmental engineers work together to find ways to reuse materials in new homes and buildings without sacrificing function, comfort, beauty or reliability.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Select a solution consistent with given constraints and explain why it was chosen.
  • Describe the steps of the engineering design process.
  • Collect information to evaluate the solution for a design problem.

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

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

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This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-2. 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)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Alignment agreement:

At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

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. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.

Alignment agreement:

Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.

Alignment agreement:

Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.

Alignment agreement:

  • 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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  • 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) More Details

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  • Test and evaluate the solutions for the design problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • 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) More Details

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  • Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • 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) More Details

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  • 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. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/lessons/view/cub_environ_lesson05_activity3] to print or download.

Introduction/Motivation

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the trash you throw away? Almost all of it ends up in landfills, which only have limited space. If we keep adding trash to landfills at our current rate, we will eventually fill up our landfills. Can you imagine what that would be like? With all the landfills full, what would we do with all our garbage? Surprisingly, a lot of the "trash" that ends up in landfills could actually be reused. Wouldn't it be great if people built homes from all the scrap pieces of metal, plastic, glass and other unwanted materials lying around? If we start using recycled garbage in buildings now, maybe we can reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills.

Some engineers have already started building homes and other buildings by reusing things other people would consider garbage. These engineers are continually working to find better ways to build homes and other buildings using recycled materials. Some new designs use old shipping containers for walls, collections of glass bottles for windows, and old pieces of tires as roofing material. Can anyone think of some other waste materials engineers could use in buildings? How could they be used? (For examples of homes with reusable materials, see: http://solar.colorado.edu/index.html, http://makewealthhistory.org/?s=mockbee, http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/shipping-container-homes-460309).

Today, we will get to reuse various materials, such as cans and newspaper, to design our very own towers! We want to prove that our towers are just as strong as buildings made from conventional or typical building materials, so we will also test our towers. Each building will undergo a wind test and an earthquake test. To add more of a challenge, you will have constraints just like real engineers. For example, your tower must be at least three feet tall and be able to hold a tennis ball on top. Sounds like a challenge we all can handle!

Photo shows three girls building a tower of newspaper, plastic tubs and tape, with a tennis ball on top.
A completed "recycled tower."
copyright
Copyright © 2009 College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Vocabulary/Definitions

constraint: A requirement that must be satisfied for a design to be successful.

recycle: Treating or processing waste so that it can be reused.

reuse: Using materials again, often for something other than what they were made for in order to keep it from being thrown away. For example, using an old t-shirt as a rag.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Class Discussion: As a class, discuss possible ways to reuse materials around the house. (Examples: Reusing plastic and glass containers for food storage, using plastic sandwich bags multiple times, using old t-shirts and sheets as cleaning rags, etc.) Also discuss how we, as a society, could reuse materials for buildings. To generate discussion, go over the recycled materials mentioned in the Recycled Towers Presentation, such as using plastic for lumber, recycled bottles for windows/light holes, etc.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Recycled Towers Worksheet: Have students use the Recycled Towers Worksheet to guide them through the activity. Review their drawings, data and answers to gauge their mastery of the subject matter.

Post-Activity Assessment

Commercial Break: Have groups come up with commercials or skits to perform in front of the class. The goal of the advertisement is to explain how the tower was built, why people might want to live in the tower, and why recycling and reusing is important for society.

Lesson Extension Activities

Have students each weigh their family's trash before it is taken to the dumpster. Keep track of how much trash each child's family produces over the course of two weeks. Challenge students to calculate how much trash was generated by all the families of the kids in the class during this time period. To incorporate more math, have students multiply this number out to reflect a year or 10 years. Explain that even more waste is being produced from manufacturing, businesses, restaurants, construction, mining, etc. Have students brainstorm how some of that waste can be reused or reduced, or never created in the first place!

Copyright

© 2012 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Contributors

Jonathan McNeil; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Jake Crosby; William Surles; Carleigh Samson

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 22, 2020

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