Spaghetti Tower Challenge

I absolutely LOVE doing Tower Challenges with my students. They’re cheap, easy to do, and most of all…the kids have FUN WHILE LEARNING!!! This one’s called the Spaghetti Tower Challenge. Kids work in groups of 3-4 to build the tallest tower possible simply out of spaghetti noodles and masking tape. Kids love competition. Some of the quietest kids will come out of their shells when faced with a challenge…you’d be surprised. This tower challenge is sure to be a hit!
Objective:

Students will attempt to build the tallest freestanding tower that supports a tennis ball.

Materials:
  • Dry spaghetti noodles – 20 noodles per group
  • Masking Tape
  • Large Marshmallow

Rules/Limitations:

  • only materials provided may be used
  • must be freestanding
  • you may break noodles
  • when timer goes off…hands off

Directions:

  1. Start by by showing students pictures of different structures (Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Notre Dame Cathedral, New Tokyo Tower, etc.)
  2. Discuss the similarities and differences in the structures with students. Emphasize the foundation of each structure.
  3. Give students their challenge: To create the tallest freestanding structure out of spaghetti noodles that can support a large marshmallow.
  4. Allow students five minutes to sketch their idea for a tower. They should include a plan for incorporating the materials that will be provided to them.
  5. After five minutes has passed, inform students that they will have 20 minutes to build their towers. At this point, you’ll want to review the rules/limitations with them:
      • only materials provided by the teacher may be used
      • all towers must be freestanding
      • the tower height will be determined by base of the tower to the top of the marshmallow
      • you may not touch your tower after the timer goes off
  6. Start the timer and allow students to build! I like to walk around to ask guiding questions. “Why did you choose to roll the paper instead of fold?” “What’s your plan?”, etc. Some students will start to question themselves and change their plans. Others will choose to stick with their plans (but trust me, they’ll still be thinking…lol). Either is okay!!! Remember, we want to build critical thinking skills!
  7. When the timer goes off, it’s hands off! No one should be touching their towers. Towers that are touched after the timer goes off or collapse are automatically disqualified.
  8. Walk around to the towers that are still standing. Have a student place a marshmallow on the top. If it survives, measure the height using a meter stick and have a student record the height on the whiteboard for that group. Repeat until you’re finished measuring all of the surviving towers.
  9. Congratulate the winner! (I usually give them a reward, but most kids will simply be satisfied with the win.)
  10. Use the following questions to discuss the challenge:
      • What are some things all of your towers have in common?
      • Paper is thin and flexible. How did you use it to make a tower?
      • How was tape useful in helping to stabilize your tower?
      • What kinds of changes did you make between your first design and your final tower?

Possible Extensions

  • Give students less time to build their towers
  • Give students another item that must be supported (instead of the tennis ball)
  • Instead of the tower having to support weight, tell students that their tower has to survive a move from one location to another (i.e. from the classroom door to the teacher’s desk)
  • Instead of the tower having to support weight, tell students that their tower has to withstand wind (use a fan on different speeds)
Posted on: January 27, 2013, by : Shayla