Topic: engineering the tallest spaghetti tower!
grades: K, 1, 2
sTandard: Engineering K-2.e.2
Book: Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty
20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti per group of 3-5 students
1 large marshmallow per group
3 feet of yarn or string per group
3 feet of masking tape per group
Time needed: 30-45 minutes
Engage: Tell students that today’s story will center around a little girl who wants to be an engineer. Ask students to share their ideas of what an engineer does. (Some will probably say that an engineer drives a train, which is also the job of a different kind of engineer.) Make sure students understand that we use the word “engineer” for different jobs. The type of engineer that Rosie wants to be is one who designs and builds items to solve problems and make life better for people.
Read the book to students, pausing to make predictions, share connections, and ideas.
Explore: Ask students if they are ready for a challenge to build something like Rosie did. (Hopefully all will respond with a resounding, “YES!”) Divide students into groups of 3-4 and hand out the supplies, or make a table for them to come and pick up their own supplies.
Give them anywhere between 8-15 minutes to build the tallest tower they can build together using the spaghetti, yarn, tape, and marshmallow. Tell them they can use scissors to cut the string or tape if they want to, and that they can break the spaghetti if needed.
They are allowed to attach the tower to the top of the desk, but nothing else. At the end of the time, the tower must be able to stand with the marshmallow on top, without anyone’s hands touching it.
It is tempting to tell students how to build the tower, but since this is an exercise in experimenting and teamwork, let them have fun exploring different ideas. I asked some probing questions as I was walking around watching them build together, to help them to think of multiple ways to build, and I was sure to praise them when they were working together, listening to each other’s ideas, and being respectful. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to work as a team when they feel like there is a competition. Continued practice at working in a group is key to help them develop these skills.
Check out the teamwork!
Do a 10 second countdown as the time for the challenge runs out. When time is up, have everyone freeze and put their hands in the air. Instruct the students to look around the room and see all of the creations of their classmates.
With hands still in the air, have everyone give themselves a round of applause, and then praise the students for their hard work. Some towers may not be tallest, and some may not even be standing, but students should be proud that they persevered through this challenge and kept working together.
Ask students to share thoughts about what went well, and what they were happy about in the challenge. Ask them to also share their difficulties, and what they would change next time if given the chance to do the challenge again.
Ideas for Elaborating Further (Optional):
After completing the challenge once, explore the internet for images of towers. Ask students what they notice about how the towers are constructed. Most will notice that towers have supports that are built with series of triangles. Talk about how they could use the same materials (spaghetti, yarn, tape, and the marshmallow), to make triangles that form the tower sides.
Repeat the challenge, and be amazed at the creativity and knowledge that evolves!
Posted by Kim Angell, Children’s Assistant