Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes

Engineering Challenge: Index Card Towers

BigKids2The challenge here was simple: see how tall a freestanding tower you can build using just index cards (folding, tearing, crumpling, etc. were all allowed, but we didn’t use any scissors, tape, glue, etc.). I ran this program twice, once for 3rd through 5th graders and once for K-2nd graders. For the first group, we actually used old card catalog cards. (Hooray for recycling!) For the second group, we used index cards.

BigKids3The 3rd to 5th graders mainly chose to work in groups. Their program was in March, and (again, blame the long winter and total lack of outdoor recess at school) they were pretty squirrelly, particularly when it came to clean up time, but except for one child who wanted to build a more intricate structure, most of them ended up with towers in the 3-4 foot range. (All of the photos are from that group.) We did find that the towers were so delicate that they were hard to measure – sometimes just the act of approaching them with a yardstick knocked them down!

BigKids4The K-2nd graders all chose to work independently, but they did it in the most cooperative way possible – talking, sharing ideas, helping each other out. It was amazing! They also cleaned up better than the bbig guys. In fact, instead of recycling their cards, they all chose to bring them home to see if they could create something even better at home. The younger kids’ towers maxed out at around 2-3 feet. I think the main difference was manual dexterity – although, unlike the older kids, they were quite careful around each other’s towers, they tended to knock their own towers down as they built. This may also be because their towers tended to be pretty thin – most of them stuck with one layer of cards and tried to build up. The most successful design was a pyramid. This was also just one layer thick, but it was pretty stable. However, because it got progressively narrower as it went up, the height was ultimately limited by the width of the base.

BigKids1Like most of our Engineering Challenges, this one was super easy – it required no setup beyond collecting materials, the kids operated pretty independently once the rules were established, and they did their own clean up.  This is why I often like to alternate science and engineering programs.  They’re equally fun, but the science programs tend to require a lot more effort in the planning, setup, execution, and cleanup.


Comments on: "Engineering Challenge: Index Card Towers" (5)

  1. Sounds like educational fun. How many index cards to you have to have a classroom set?

    • kjoshi1242 said:

      A pack of 100 index cards per group is a nice starting number. You can make a limited number of index cards part of the constraints, or you can have a few extra packs on hand and let them use unlimited cards. Most groups won’t be able to use more than 100 cards without the tower falling down, but it is definitely possible.

  2. Kathleen Minardi said:

    That is a great idea. How long did you have the students build this and where did you store their creations if you used a longer period of time/

    • kjoshi1242 said:

      You can get through two complete builds in 45 minutes to an hour. I wouldn’t try to store them. They’re very delicate. Even someone walking past in a rush can send them tumbling, so you need to be careful about having adequate space to build. I’ve even had kids knock theirs down trying to measure them.

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