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  • Paper Towers (Sturdy Structures)
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Microsoft Word Document STOMP lesson plan 10_3.docx Nov 07, 2011 by Rachael A. Wolber
Microsoft Word Document Intro to Engineering Worksheet.docx Nov 07, 2011 by Rachael A. Wolber
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  1. We did the paper tower activity in Ms. Pappas' fifth grade classroom this semester.  We gave the students 10 sheets of paper, 5 paper clips, and 18 inches of masking tape.  We also told the students that the tower had to be as tall as the width of the paper, so at least 8.5in tall. Before we gave the students the materials, we had them draw three possible designs and then they had to select what they thought would be the best one to build.  During the discussion at the beginning of class we talked about sturdy structures and ways that a piece of paper could be made into a sturdy structure.  One student mentioned rolling the paper into a cylinder-like shape and so most students build their tower by putting paper cylinders together.  The students worked in groups of two and really enjoyed making the towers and testing them at the end.  I think they were all in disbelief that their towers were able to support as many books as they did.  We were able to briefly discuss at the end why some paper towers worked better than others. Our teacher was really involved in the activity and was walking around the classroom while students were building the structures and she was just as surprised as the students that they towers were able to withstand the weight of so many books.

  2. We did this in Nick Kapura's 5th grade classroom. The students were very frustrated by the limited materials, but we tried to re-frame their frustrations to explain why resources are limited in the real world. Some students needed to be prompted to consider why certain materials were sturdy or not. Our class period was only 45 minutes, so it was difficult to find time to do a wrap up. I think this would have helped students take more away from the lesson. Our teacher was very involved in challenging students to explain their ideas and draw diagrams, and he also assisted with the students who became frustrated and gave up. 

  3. We did this in Ms. Fong's 5th grade classroom.  We limited them to ten sheets of paper, an arm's length of masking tape, and the tower had to be at least six inches tall.  Students worked in groups of two (with one group of three).  The students had done this the previous semester, so nearly all of them rolled the paper into cylinder shapes (with one exception).  Though they had already done the activity, we challenged them to make their structures even sturdier than they had the last time they did the activity.  The students were successful, and one group was able to make a structure that could support 20 dictionaries.  Though they had already done the activity, they definitely enjoyed it.  Our teacher was very involved with getting the students to determine what really made for the best paper tower, asking about the diameter of the cylinder, how many cylinders they used, how many sheets of paper were used in each cylinder, etc.  We plan on using this concept next week by having them make chairs out of newspaper that can support their weight.