Students will design and build a structure with a specific goal in mind.
Associated Curriculum Topic
Materials, Objects and Everyday Structures
Each child needs:
- 20 miniature marshmallows (fresh ones are best, structures become more stable as marshmallows dry out)
- 20 round toothpicks
For the class to share:
- Tape measure
- Tray of Jello (optional – can be prepared ahead of time; keep chilled so it doesn’t melt)
This activity allows the students to design the tallest structure possible using a fixed amount of marshmallows and toothpicks. Images of tall structures could be shown to motivate the discussion. Consider the Great Pyramids, CN Tower, and/or the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. What do these structures have in common? How are the shapes similar? How are they different? Stable structures often have cross bracings that form triangles in its design. Also, tall structures usually have a larger base and typically taper in shape as the building gets taller. Structures need to be made with materials that are strong enough to withstand wind, rain, really hot and cold temperatures and be as resilient as possible in the event of a natural disaster. What could happen if a structure wasn’t strong enough? If structures are not strong enough, they could crack and crumble and cause a lot of damage to other surrounding buildings. Also, if a building were to fall down, a lot of people could get hurt.
Have each student design a structure using marshmallows and toothpicks. Remind them that they only have 20 marshmallows and toothpicks to create their structure. Once each student has a tentative design, allow them to build their structures within a fixed time (30-40 minutes should be sufficient). Also, remind them that they’re conducting an experiment, and it’s not safe to eat any part of the experiment. Once the time is up, measure each structure using a ruler or tape measure. Whoever has the tallest structure wins.
Just for fun, place each structure on the Jello. Shake the tray of Jello to simulate secondary waves of an earthquake. Only the stable structures will survive!
- What difficulties did you have making your structure?
- What other materials in the classroom might have made a better tower? Why?
- Observe the tall towers constructed. What do they have in common? Do they appear stable?
- Observe the structures that survived the Jello earthquake. What do they have in common?
Adapted from Teach Engineering