Using spaghetti and marshmallows, students experiment with different structures to determine which ones are able to handle the greatest amount of load. Their experiments help them to further understand the effects that compression and tension forces have with respect to the strength of structures. Spaghetti cannot hold much tension or compression; therefore, it breaks very easily. Marshmallows handle compression well, but do not hold up to tension.
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- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 1. 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)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Understand that compression and tension affect the stability of a structure
- Compare their model to others to understand why some models are stronger than others
- Use number sense to correlate the strength of a structure to the amount of weight it holds
- Understand why engineers consider tension and compression forces when designing and choosing the appropriate materials for a building or structure
- 20 unbroken pieces of uncooked, long pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine or fettuccini
- 30 small marshmallows
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Weights or small books
Before the Activity
- Copy a Standing Strong Worksheet for each group.
With the Students
- The object of this activity is to build a tower as high AND as strong as you can using only a limited supply of spaghetti (or linguine or fettuccini) and marshmallows. There are no step-by-step instructions for this project, only the constraints of limited resources! Students can do whatever they want with the materials to try to build a structure as tall, stable and strong as possible. The project can be made more difficult by adding more constraints such as fewer materials, a minimum height requirement, or a requirement to support at least a minimum weight for a given time. Let the student teams' imagination, creativity and ingenuity run wild.
- Hold a competition and give points for how tall the structure is as well as how much weight it can hold. A good way to comparatively measure the effectiveness of each structure is by having students take the load the structure can support and divide it by the weight of the structure. The higher this number, the more effective the structure. For example, 30g (maximum weight structure could hold) divided by 10g (weight of structure alone) = 3.
- Before testing the structures (see Figure 1), have students measure and record the height and weight of their structure.
- How much weight does the structure support? Five grams? 10 grams? 20 grams? 30 grams? Have students record their structure's maximum weight held on the worksheet, and calculate the load to weight ratio for comparison purposes.
- As a class, graph the amount of weight each structure held vs. how much each structure weighed as well as the height of the structure. Discuss different trends and use the graph to lead in to the other discussion questions.
- After the competition, hold a class discussion:
- Have you ever built a tower? What did you use for the material(s)? How strong was it? How did you know it was/was not strong?
Activity Embedded Assessment
Chris Yakacki, Ben Heavner, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: July 3, 2015