Build a Paper Tower Challenge--(Part 5)--Improving Our Tower Designs

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SWBAT make improvements on their tower designs according to the results of their testing.

Big Idea

We can make improvements on our tower designs by looking at the strengths and weaknesses in our testing and then analyze the results.

Teacher Notes

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

Activity Description:


NGSS/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 work to improve the model of their tower. They must analyze and interpret the data to make these improvements to their tower. They will also used the ideas learned about structure and function of different shapes to improve on stability and strength.  


Measure and Test papers--filled out in this lesson

3 newspaper beams per team

tape--1 roll per team

testing materials from this lesson--cups, pennies and cardboard

Test and Improve poster-pulled up on Smartboard

Build a Paper Tower Engineer's Notebook--1 per student

How Well Did I work as an Engineer? Self Assessment--1 per student

Essential Question--pulled up on Smartboard

Thomas Edison quote poster and light bulbs poster--pulled up on Smartboard



5 minutes

I begin this lesson by asking the children several questions to get them thinking about what engineers do to improve their designs.  I want them to think like an engineer and think about the engineering design process and what it means.  

How do engineers make their designs better?  What do you think they do?  What type of questions do they ask? How can the results from our tests help guide us to make improvements on your towers?

These questions help our little ones focus on what is important about the engineering process.  Many children have a misconception that an engineer designs something, and then they are done.  They need to realize that engineering is so much more than that.  One needs to test the design, record results and then analyze those results to make appropriate modifications.



15 minutes

I want to deepen the understanding of the the idea that engineers improve their ideas based on results from testing.  They need to analyze those results and think what they can do to make things better.

Yesterday we tested our designs.  What is the next step of the engineering design process?  

I pull up the Test and Improve poster for their reference.  Then I have the children open up to their Measure and Test recording page from yesterday's lesson.

I would like all of you to turn in your science notebooks to the testing page.  Look down at this testing page and read what you said that you could do to improve your towers.  What were some things you said you might want to try to improve your towers?

Now in your Engineer Notebook page, I would like you to look at the top of the page.  It asks if you need to improve your tower's strength or stability.  How do you know if your tower needs to improve on strength or stability? (See video clip).

The children should be able to analyze the results from yesterday's testing and take it to the next step since we worked on analyzing that part together.  They should be able to state that if their tower failed or did poorly in an area, then that means that the tower needs improving.  This is all part of the goal of getting the children to analyze their results.  

You need to circle what you need to improve.  You can circle both strength and stability, if you think you need to improve on both.

I give them a few moments to circle their choice.

I am going to give you the chance to improve your towers.  You are only going to be given 3 newspaper beams to work with.  You will need to think how you can best use those beams to help you make improvements on your design.  Remember you are to make improvements based on your test results, not improvements on how the tower itself looks.

I only give the students 3 beams since that is about all they need to make modifications without redoing the entire design.  All but one team has managed to make strong and stable towers the first time around.  But you might want to consider giving your children more beams, if you feel necessary.  I give the students about 10-15 minutes to make their improvements.  They can use the testing materials that we used before, such as the pennies and cardboard to see if their designs have indeed made improvements.


10 minutes

Engineers retest their designs to find out if their improvements were successful or not.  Designing itself is a process.  The original idea keeps evolving and improving with each adjustment and improvement.

I want the children to realize that each of their improvements makes their design better.  Engineers keep on improving on their designs until they have figured out what works the best.  We can do the same.  I pull up this poster with a famous quote by Thomas Edison on the Smartboard.

Engineers take a look at their testing and then make modifications based on their findings.  They take the best parts of the design to keep and then redo the parts that didn't work so well.  Do you remember my favorite inventor, Thomas Edison?  It took him over 2,000 different tries to create the lightbulb.  He tested and figured out what worked, and then remade the parts that didn't.  He just kept on trying until he succeeded, no matter how long it took.  Here is a famous quote from Edison, " I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."  What do you think he meant by that quote?

Here are some examples of Thomas Edison's light bulbs that he kept improving.  He designed his first idea and then kept testing, evaluating and retesting until he go it right.  It took him over 2,000 different times to finally get the light bulb that worked the way he wanted it to!

The whole engineer design process is circular.  It keeps on going until the engineer is satisfied with the results.  Edison applied that idea over and over again.  Edison was also known for testing and making improvements on many other things.  He kept on  testing to find out the strengths and weaknesses and then made improvements based off of what he found out.

I want the children to realize that the design process continues after the first prototype.  Engineers keep on making improvements.  Knowing what Edison has done in the past helps them know that this is the way things are done by successful engineers.  It helps the children realize that even brilliant, famous people had to grapple with ideas before they became successful.  It was because of this perseverance that led them to become the outstanding individuals that we remember them for.  Knowing this concept, helps the children themselves persevere through difficult tasks. 







10 minutes

To elaborate on the ideas learned, the children need to write down the strengths and weaknesses of their project by filling out the Engineer's Notebook page.    

What did you do to improve your towers?  I would like you to answer that question in your science notebooks.  Please be specific and tell me the details of what you did.

Were your improvements successful?  How did you know that your improvements were successful or not?  Please explain in your notebook.

 I want the children to understand that the improvements that are made affect the project's success. (See how improvements helped video clip).


10 minutes

As part of the conclusion of this entire unit, we discuss the Essential Question.

What makes a structure strong and stable?  

The children should be able to explain that shapes, such as X's and triangles help give a structure support.  It not only makes them stronger, but add stability.  Cylinders are also very strong.  The selection of materials also contribute to making a structure strong, such as using cement and steel.  These materials have properties that make them strong.  Stable structures have wide bases and are smaller at the top.

How could you prove if a structure is strong and stable?

The children should be able to relate the idea that you can test its strength and stability.  They tested by using weights, a wind test and an earthquake test.

Another big idea of this unit was to apply and use the engineering design process to build a tower.  So for an evaluation of the process, the children rate themselves on a self assessment.  This is the same assessment that they took in two other design projects--Vanilla Pollinators and Those Darn Squirrels.