Saturday, November 15, 2014

Design Challenge: Pipe Cleaner Structures

I promise to post the Why and How of Engineering Design Challenges in the near future, but for now I hope that you'll be satisfied with finding out more about this activity. 

I found inspiration for Pipe Cleaner Structures from a NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Learning Center website. I'm sorry, but you have to have membership to the association in order to access what I found. In lieu of that, I will give you the same information that I gave my students as well some teacher tips. 

The Challenge:
How can pipe cleaners be used to build a structure that will support a cup with 50 pennies 5 inches off the table top? 

  • 10 pipe cleaners
  • Small paper cup
  • 50 pennies
  • Ruler
  • The structure may not be taped down to the table.
  • You may cut or fold the pipe cleaners anyway you wish. You will not receive any additional supplies.
  • It is recommended that the structure begins holding an empty cup more than 5 inches off the table top because it may sink as pennies are added.
  • You will have 25 minutes to construct, test and submit your design. 
Here are some of the designs that students came up with...
Photo by Bethany Ligon (2014)
Photo by Bethany Ligon (2014)
Photo by Bethany Ligon (2014)
Photo by Bethany Ligon (2014)
  Teacher Tips:
  • Students working in pairs or trios is best.
  • If students ask for additional supplies, I suggest that they barter with another group - although in this activity there isn't much to barter with...
  • If you plan on giving your students a grade for this activity - here's how I did it:
    • Making an honest attempt = 6 points
    • Cup holds 20 pennies = 7 points
    • Cup holds 30 pennies = 8 points
    • Cup holds 40 pennies = 9 points
    • Cup holds 50 pennies = 10 points
    • If the cup sinks below 5 inches deduct 2 points
  • And because my grading policy allows for redos, if students are not able to succeed in the allotted time, they may come in on their own time and complete the challenge again.
Things to think about:

This activity was designed for 7th and 8th graders. How might you alter it for younger or older students?

Thanks for reading!
Be OutStanding!

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