Build A Paper Tower Challenge (Part 4)--Testing our Towers

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SWBAT test the tower they have built to identify its strengths and weaknesses. They will analyze the results in order to propose improvements.

Big Idea

We can test our tower to find out its strengths and weaknesses so we can then improve on our design.

Teacher Notes

Note: This is part 4 of a 5 part series called "Build a Paper Tower Challenge."

Activity  Description

Watch the 1.5 minute video for an activity description and preview of the resources.

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 test the model of a tower.  They will also used the ideas learned about structure and function of different shapes to build a stable tower.  The children also have a part in planning and carrying out an investigation. When testing their towers, they must analyze and interpret the data for their tower.


  • newspaper TOWERS built in the previous lesson
  • 1 bag of 50 pennies per group- for testing strength
  • 1 small paper plate or cup per group--to put the pennies on or in
  • 1 sheet of cardboard approximately 8 x 11 per group for wind testing (This is a suggested size, it doesn't have to be this exact size)
  • Measure and Test recording page--the top part has already been filled out by the children in the previous lesson
  • Test and Improve poster--pulled up on Smartboard


5 minutes

The next part of our building challenge is for the children to test out their structures.  They were given the task of building a strong and stable tower and now we are going to check them out!

You have done a really wonderful job building your towers.  Now is the time for us to move on to the next part of the engineering design process.  Let's sing our song to refresh our memory of what we should do next.

I love the song and the kids love it, too!  It gets them in the mood to do a little testing.  Their favorite part of the song is "build it, test it, check it all out!"  So I am hoping testing and checking it all out for real will gain their favor, as well.

I pull up the Test and Improve poster on the Smartboard.

Why do you think it is important to test the towers?  

I want the children to relay the information that when building something, it actually needs to solve the problem it was intended to.  If it doesn't then the engineer would need to work on that part to improve the design and make it better.  In this video the girl focuses on the fact that we have certain specifications to meet, like real engineers.


Exploring--Testing Our Towers

30 minutes

The next idea I want to get across is that we all need to be consistent in our efforts to test the towers.  The children will record their findings on the Measure and Test recording page.  

How do you think that we should test our towers to make sure that we have all tested them in the same way?  How can we be consistent?

We talk about the importance of everyone testing their towers in the same manner.  We need to be consistent so it is a fair test.  

I have these pennies to act as our weight for the strength test.  How should we conduct this part of the testing? 

We decide that we should put a plastic cup on the tower to hold the pennies.  Also, that we should put the pennies in ONE by ONE.  

What do you think will decide if your tower is strong?  What needs to happen to show that it is weak?  

We decide that you need to count how many pennies the tower was able to hold before it started to weaken or fall over, similar to what we did with our gumdrop towers.  

 I have given each of you a bag with 50 pennies in it.  Look at your paper.  Do you see how in the strength category how there are blanks above the words "fair," "good," and "super strong?"  We need to decide how to fill those fields in.  How many pennies do you think we should put on to show that it is super strong?  How many to be classified as good?  What about fair?

As a class we decide how to fill each of the boxes in.  I write what we have decided on the copy on the Smartboard for everyone to see.  They all need to write down the same thing so we are all consistent.

We are going to do a wind test by waving the cardboard in front of the tower.  How do you think we can do this so it is consistent for all of the towers?

Together we decide that we need to test for wind durability by waving a piece of cardboard at the same velocity.  The children say it should be done with medium effort, not too hard and not too soft.  A child comes up and models the velocity for the class. 

Look at the wind-testing part on your paper.  Just as with the strength, we need to decide how to fill those fields in.  How many times do you think we should wave the cardboard to show that your tower is super strong?  How many times to be classified as good?  What about fair?

As a class we make these decisions and I write them on the Smartboard for them to write on their papers.

How do you think we should conduct our earthquake test?  What could we do that might simulate an earthquake?

 We decide our  "earthquake" would be shaking their tables for 3 seconds.  We also fill in that blank.

Having the children make these decisions is very important.  It helps them to know how to set up an investigation.  I gave them parameters to start with but let them figure the rest out for themselves.  This gives them a bit of independence, but is manageable.

Each partner team is going to get a bag of pennies, a plastic cup to put the pennies in when you put them on your tower, and a piece of cardboard for the wind-testing portion.  With your partner team, you need to record data gathered from your tests. Circle the indicator words--such as did not meet, fair, good and super strong-- that shows how your tower did on each test.

The children get right down to work.  They love this part since they feel like actual scientists testing in a laboratory!  This is a very proud teaching moment for me as well.  They are testing, communicating with each other effectively and doing what they are supposed to do with little guidance.  Click here for a video of one of the teams testing the strength of their tower.  Here is a "happy camper" doing an earthquake test.  Lastly, here is a video clip of our wind testing.   



10 minutes

I want the children to understand the idea that engineers make improvements based on the results of their testing.  I have everyone take out their "Measure and Test" papers as I pull up a copy on the Smartboard so they can see exactly the section in which I am referring.

Engineers take a look at their testing results to help them make improvements.  So we are going to start looking at our results today and then make improvements based on those results tomorrow.  

So let's take a look at your "Measure and Test" paper.  Look at the section called strength.  In this section you put pennies on the tower to see how strong it was.  You circled a word that indicated how your tower did on that test.  If you were not able to circle the words "super strong," you could probably make some improvements in this area.  What are some improvements that could be made to improve your tower?  What could you do to make it better?

The children answer that they could add more triangles and X's.

If you could improve in that category raise your hand.  At the bottom of the page, where it asked what improvements you could make I want the students with their hands up to write down what you could do to improve your tower.

I ask the children to raise their hand so they know they are the children who need to write this down.  

Now let's take a look at the next sections, the wind test and the earthquake test.  If you did not circle "super stability" or you circled the word "no," then you can make some improvements in that particular area.  What are some ways that we can make your structure more stable?

The children comment that again you can add more stability by making your base wider or perhaps by adding X's for support.

If you did not circle super stability, I want you to take a look at your tower and see if you can make any of the improvements that were just suggested.  Then write what you could improve on the lines below.

By taking a look at the indicators, the children are interpreting and analyzing their data to make necessary modifications.  Click here to see how a girl decided what she needed to do to improve her tower.   Click here to see how she filled out her paper.  The words say, "Add triangles, and lots of them!"




5 minutes

To wrap-up the lesson today, I want to bring the focus back to what we have accomplished and how we will use the knowledge we have gained today to help us make improvements tomorrow.

You have accomplished a lot today.  You have tested your towers to see how strong and stable that they are.  What do you think we are going to do with the information that we have gathered?

Naturally the next step is to take the information, analyze it and then make improvements.  We will be doing that by filling out the "Engineer's Notebook" page in the next lesson.  Then they will be making their improvements.