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.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
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- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- E. Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- F. There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- G. Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- F. Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- G. Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- H. Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- K. Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- G. Structures rest on a foundation. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- I. Buildings generally contain a variety of subsystems. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- 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)  ...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
- North Carolina: Math
- Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context, such as by: (Grade 6)  ...show
- North Carolina: Science
- Predict the effect of a given force or a change in mass on the motion of an object. (Grade 5)  ...show
- 2.03 Evaluate technological designs for:
• Application of scientific principles. (Grade 7)  ...show
- Understand motion, the effects of forces on motion and the graphical representations of motion. (Grade 7)  ...show
- Explain the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces acting on an object (including friction, gravity and magnets). (Grade 7)  ...show
- 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.
- office tape
- meter stick
|When a column fails by bending at some point in the height of the column, usually towards the midpoint caused by a vertical force.|
|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.|
|The field of engineering pertaining to non-moving structures such as roads, sewers, towers, buildings and bridges.|
|The amount a structure bends or moves from its "at rest" position.|
|A force that impacts a structure horizontally (that is, wind and earthquakes).|
|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.|
- 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
- Divide the class into groups of three students each.
- Distribute scissors around the classroom for students to share. Give each group 12 inches (30 cm) of tape and three full sheets of newspaper.
- Give teams 20 minutes to test different designs.
- 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.
- Give students an additional 25 minutes of construction time.
- 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.
- 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.
Building Big. PBS. Accessed June 25, 2004. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/
Kelly Devereaux and Benjamin Burnham
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Duke University
Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
Last modified: February 10, 2016