Build a Paper Tower Challenge (Part 3) Building and Measuring Our Towers

7 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT build a tower following their plan and then measure and weigh the tower.

Big Idea

We can build a tower from plans that we have developed. Once built, we can measure the structure to see if it meets the specifications.

Teacher Notes

Note: This is part 3 of a 5 part series called "Build a Paper Tower Challenge."

Activity Description

Watch the 1-minute cartoon for an activity description

Loaded with at least 10 newspaper beams, pairs of students are challenged to cooperatively create their own tower from only these beams and masking tape according to their plan. They work with partners as they complete the entire engineering design process from beginning to end as a framework to create their tower.  

NGSS/Common Core Connections

One of the main goals of the NGSS is to put an emphasis on the engineering design process.  This allows children to gain the skills needed to solve problems.  This entire series of lessons gets at the heart of that concept.  In the series, the children are challenged to build a tower made from just newspaper and tape. They must define the problem, research, get the specs, brainstorm, choose the best idea, develop that idea, build, test and then improve as necessary.  In this particular lesson, the children build and measure the model of a tower.  They will also use the ideas learned about structure and function of different shapes to build a stable tower.   


  • newspaper beams made in the previous lesson
  • rulers, meter sticks and scissors for each group
  • a balance scale and weights for weighing their designs
  • Engineering Design Build poster--pulled up on Smartboard
  • Measure and Test recording page  (note: There are 3 different recording pages, each with a different level of scaffolding, pick the one that is right for your class)--1 per student



5 minutes

The kiddos are pumped for this activity, so I don't need to say anything except the word "GO," but I'll start with a few words to get their energies moving in the right direction.

This is the day you have been waiting for, the day your team gets to build your tower.  A lot of preparation has gone into this project.  Can you tell me what we have done so far to be prepared? 

I want the children to acknowledge the fact that to build something of quality, which is going to solve a problem and meet certain specifications, you really need to prepare yourself for it.  The assimilated learning they have gained in the prerequisite lessons are part of the knowledge base that will help them to become more successful in this task.  I want them to link all of their past learning about towers to help them in this end of the unit activity.  

Someday they will be able to draw on their own learned knowledge without giving it a second thought, but to learn how this is done, they first must voice this "think process" aloud.  They should use metacognition and be aware of their own thought processes.  This will not only help themselves in this task, but voicing their learning aloud will help other students who may not be able to do so at this time.

The children do a great job at revoicing what we have learned such as what makes a structure stable, and the parts we have done with the engineering process itself.  Click here for a short video of a girl summing it all up.  In this video the girl tells us towers must have a wide "bottom."  This leads to a discussion about how it is called a base.

What is the next step in the engineering process?

I pull up the Engineering Design Build poster on the Smartboard.

Yes, our next step is to build our tower, trying to follow our plan.

Building Our Towers

30 minutes

The excitement in my classroom had been growing this whole time, now in this part of the activity, my students finally get to BUILD the tower.

I would like you to meet back with your partner team.  Once you are with your teammate, I would like you to get out your "Best Idea" paper (see student sample).  You will be trying to create the tower that you have planned.  This is the design that both of you have agreed upon, so this should be your starting point.  

I try to lay this out up front so the children remember that they actually are trying to follow the plan.  I don't want the kids to think that this is just a "free-for-all" and they build anything that they want.

Each partner group is going to receive a set of 10 newspaper beams to start your design with.  You will also get a small piece of cardboard that you can use for your tower's platform and a roll of tape.  I have extra newspapers up at my front table if you need it for something else on your tower.  Feel free to cut the beams to whatever lengths that you need.

Sometimes the children need reassurance that they can actually cut and change the form of the original newspaper beams.  In doing so, they can add reinforcement where needed.

Remember we are trying to build the tower that is on your paper. But I have a question for you before you begin.  What do you think you should do if you are building your design that is on the paper and find out what you thought would work, won't work?

Most children are able to voice that you should try something a little different to make the design work.  This will help them persevere through a difficult task (see reflection). 

Just like when we made our vanilla pollinators and dioramas, this is going to be a timed task.  You will have 30 minutes in which to build your towers.  I will chunk the time, and let you know when each 5 minutes have passed.  How many 5 minute chunks are there in 30 minutes?

Again, I love throwing some authentic math into the picture.  It lets them know that we use math everyday!

Giving the children time constraints helps so they can use their time accordingly, and also so they don't drag this out forever.  We need to have time to measure their towers, and our time is limited.  Click to see time chunking info page.

During the building phase, I walk around and make notes on how the children were doing working in groups.  In this video the partners are working on adding supports. Click here to see some children working feverishly since they were down to the last 5 minute time chunk.  The boys in this video clip are getting a lot accomplished because of their great teamwork.  It is so amazing to see how well the children are working with their partners.  One lower achieving boy stole my heart when he steps up and leads his team!  You just never know what some children will be able to excel at doing.  I am so proud of all of their efforts and teamwork.  They are also very proud of what they are accomplishing all on their own!  

Click sample 1, sample 2, sample 3, sample 4 and sample 5 to see photos of their finished towers.  The towers look great!


Measuring Our Towers

15 minutes

When their tower building is complete, the children need to measure their design.  They will record their measurements at the top of the Measure and Test recording page.  The testing part, which is the middle and bottom of the page, will be filled out in the next lesson.

The next thing that engineers do is to measure their final project.  So we need to measure our towers. What tool should we use to measure the dimensions of our tower?  

Since scientists use the metric system, we will be measuring using centimeters, just like we did in math this year.

 You will need to measure the height, which means how tall it is. To be accurate, you need to measure your tower from its base to the tippity-top.  If your tower is longer than 30cm you will need to use a meter stick.

I wait for each of the partners to measure the height and write it down (see measuring the tower photo). 

Then you need to measure the width and the depth.  Decide which part is the front of the tower and which part is the back. Place your tower in front of you with the front of your tower facing you.  Looking at the tower measure the front of the tower from side to side.  This measurement is what we call the width.  I remember that they go together since part of the word wide is in the word width.  

I have the children all measure at the same time since these measurements can be confusing to them.  

Now you need to measure your tower's depth.  To do this, measure the tower from the front to the back on the outside.  Do this and then write the measurement down on your paper.

I wait for everyone to write down their measurements (See photo of girl recording her information).

You also need to weigh your tower using the balance scale.  Who remembers how we use a balance scale?  You need to put the object you are measuring on one side and then put weights on the other side, one by one.  When the two sides are equal, then you need to count up the number on the weights.  

Each group comes up to the front table and weighs their tower.  Some of the bases are so big that we have to turn the towers upside-down to fit on the pan (see weighing our towers photo).  When the sides are equal, we count the weights together as a class.  This is wonderful practice for mental addition.  After each group has a chance to use the scales, I have the students put their towers on my counter so we can work on improving them tomorrow.



5 minutes

In our wrap-up, I want to ask a few questions to see what they have learned.

Wow!  You have been incredible engineers today!  I am so impressed with your strong and sturdy towers.  I have a few questions to ask you about the process that you went through today.  

  • What parts of the engineer process did we accomplish? (building and measuring)
  • Why do you think it was important to start with a plan?
  • How did having a diagram help you?
  • Did any team have to change from your original plan?  Why? What did you do? 
  • Do you think your tower will be strong? Why?
  • Is your tower stable?  How do you know?
  • Why is it important to measure your tower?

I check to see if most are able to answer the questions before I move on.  Holding this discussion helps everyone think back to what we did and why we did it.  Even my more academically challenged children were able to listen and pick up some knowledge to apply in the next situation.

In the next lesson, we will test our towers and analyze our results to help us make improvements.