Paper Towers


I had so much fun with this activity that I had to share! I am a big fan of open ended challenges that encourage creative problem solving. This year my class is paired up with a Grade 3/4 class as buddies.  Over the last month their teacher and I have been coming up with challenges to give them. We supply the materials, the guidelines, and a bit of time, and we let them go.  It is wonderful to see how these sorts of challenges result in so much deep thinking.

This week’s challenge was to build a paper tower.  Each pair was able to use only newspaper (one paper per team) and masking tape (about 4 meters per team).  They were asked to use these materials to create the tallest freestanding tower possible in a given amount of time. We would then measure each tower and compare the lengths. The tower had to stand without leaning or being supported by anything for at least five seconds. If it tipped, we would measure from the highest point in the sag.

Once we explained the rules and passed out materials, we just let the kids go! There was an incredible range of strategies implemented across the room. Some towers worked brilliantly, others not so much. And it was great to see kids adapting their ideas as they worked.

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We gave them about twenty minutes (until they seemed to be at the point where more time would either not help, or it would lead to them changing things too much), and then called time. We all gathered together and measured each tower. This was great in its own right, as we are studying measurement right now as well!

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We listed all the final measurements, made comparisons, and had the winners share their thinking behind their design. I think the last step is very important. I want the kids to enjoy the challenge, but also learn ideas that will help them the next time around. The winning designers are often very eloquent about what they did, how they did or did not need to change their plan, and why they think it worked.

With this particular challenge we also had an interesting and unexpected side conversation evolve. Two teams used magazines in their towers as well as newspaper. Unknowingly, when handing them their newspaper, I also handed them the magazine insert. While we all agreed that is was not cheating to use the materials given to them, we had an excellent discussion about how the magazine presented a different variable in the experiment.

Have you ever done this sort of open ended challenge? Please tell me all about it, as we would love more ideas to use with our kids!

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