Sticky Engineering Challenge

This lesson focuses on how engineers work to solve problems and impact daily life through new and improved products. Students work in teams to design a structure, held together with glue, which must withstand the weight of a can of soup or soda.

  • Learn how component selection impact engineering results.
  • Learn how adhesives are developed for different applications.
  • Learn how engineering teams address problem solving.
  • Learn about teamwork and working in groups.

Age Levels: 8-18

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials

  • 30 popsicle sticks
  • 10 paper clips
  • 2 sheets of paper

Build Materials (To share) – Safety note: super glue or crazy glue is not recommended

  • A variety of glue options
    • School or washable glue
    • Wood glue
    • Craft glue
    • Gel glue
    • Rubber cement
    • Glue sticks
  • See extension idea below
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Extension Idea – Making Glue

  • For an optional extension activity you may wish to have students develop their own glues, or recipes for glues. Some of these recipes would require the use of a stove and would require adult supervision and extra safety precautions.
    • Glue Recipe 1 (no heat) Mix 1/2 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of water.
    • Glue Recipe 2 (no heat) Mix 2 cups flour with one 1 cup of cold water and 1 cup of hot tap water
    • Glue Recipe 3 (requires heat) 1. Mix 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp. alum, 4 cups water in a saucepan. 2. Cook until clear and thick. 3. Add 30 drops oil of cloves or wintergreen (etc.) and store covered.
    • Glue Recipe 4 (requires heat) 1. Mix 3/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. 2. In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup cornstarch or corn flour and 3/4 cup water, mix over a very low heat. 3. Add cornstarch mixture slowly to water/sugar/vinegar mixture. Stir continually for two minutes. 4. Take the mixture off heat and let cool completely before using as a glue

Testing Materials

  • Identical cans of soup or soda – about 10 oz or 300 grams

Materials

  • Identical cans of soup or soda – about 10 oz or 300 grams

Process

Test each design by placing the can on top of the structure.

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers who have been given the challenge of building a structure that can withstand the weight of a can of soup or soda. The can must be at least 2 inches or 5 centimeters above a tabletop surface.  Your materials include popsicle sticks, paper clips, paper, and glue — but you’ll have to decide which glue works best for your design!

Criteria

  • Must withstand the weight of a can of soup or soda
  • Can must be at least 2 inches or 5 centimeters above the tabletop surface.

Constraints

Use only the materials provided.

  1. Break class into teams of 2-3.
  2. Hand out the Sticky Engineering worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Discuss the topics in the Background Concepts Section.
  4. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials.
  5. Provide each team with their materials.
  6. Explain that students must develop a structure from everyday items. The structure must withstand the weight of a can of soup or soda. The can must be at least 2 inches or 5 centimeters above a tabletop surface. Their materials include popsicle sticks, paper clips, paper, and glue — but they’ll have to decide which glue works best for their design!
  7. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  8. Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
  9. Students meet and develop a plan for their structure. They agree on how many popsicle sticks and paper clips they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class.
    • Teams should test the different glues for strength using a few different scenarios. These tests will help them decide which glue to select for their building structure.  They should come up with a method that will be consistent for each type of glue.  It might involve a strength test using a gauge or a simple string or weight test to see if a glue can hold a certain weight for a set amount time (such as overnight).
  10. Teams build their designs.
  11. Test the designs by placing the can of soup/soda on top of each structure.
  12. Teams should document how many popsicle sticks and paper clips they used for their design.
  13. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  14. For more content on the topic, see the “Digging Deeper” section.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. Did you succeed in creating a structure to hold the can? If so, why do you think your design worked? If not, why did it fail?
  2. How did you test your glues to make your glue selection? Did your testing process work well and provide you with the information/research you needed to make a decision?
  3. How important was the selection of glue to your structure’s success or failure?
  4. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? Why?
  5. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?
  6. Did you find that there were many designs in your classroom that met the project goal? Can you think of examples of everyday products that do the same job but look or perform very differently?
  7. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone?  Why?  Why not?

Time Modification

The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.

Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class

Adhesive History and Engineering Implications 

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Adhesives through the Ages

The first adhesives were natural gums and other plant resins. Archaeologists have found 6000-year-old ceramic vessels that had broken and been repaired using plant resin. Most early adhesives were animal glues made by rendering animal products such as the Native American use of buffalo hooves. Native Americans in what is now the eastern United States used a mixture of spruce gum and fat as adhesives and as caulk to waterproof seams in their birch bark canoes. During the times of Babylonia, tar-like glue was used for gluing statues. Also, Egypt was one of the most prominent users of adhesives. The Egyptians used animal glues to adhere tombs, furniture, ivory, and papyrus. Also, the Mongols used adhesives to make their short bows. In Europe in the Middle Ages, egg whites were used to decorate parchments with gold leaves. In the 1700s, the first glue factory was founded in Holland, which manufactured hide glue. Later, in the 1750s, the British introduced fish glue. As the modernization continued, new patents were issued by using rubber, bones, starch, fish, and casein. Modern adhesives have improved flexibility, toughness, curing rate, temperature and chemical resistance.

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Will it Stick?

Whether a glue or adhesive “sticks” depends on more than just the glue formulation. It also depends on the materials being “stuck” together, how they are structured or attached, and how much load they must carry. For example, even the strongest glue connecting two popsicle sticks could not withstand the weight of a television set. And, some glues, though stronger, might increase the cost of a product to the point that a consumer would not buy it.

Engineering Considerations

As engineers develop new products (or seek to improve existing ones) they have to determine which materials to use — in many cases including the selection of appropriate adhesives or glues to meet the demands of the job. They will also need to develop a plan for how the materials will fit and stay together, and a method for attaching the parts in a way so that the parts will stay together while in normal use. Usage factors such as temperature, humidity, force, and anticipated damage will also be evaluated and tested prior to mass manufacturing.

Sticky Notes – Engineering Trial and Error 

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3M and the Post-it Note

A Post-it note (or simply Post-it), invented and manufactured by 3M, is a piece of stationery with a re-adherable strip of adhesive on the back, designed for temporarily attaching notes to documents, computer displays, and so forth. While now available in a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes, the most common size of Post-it note is a 3-in (7.5-cm) square, trademark canary yellow in color. The notes use a unique low-tack adhesive that enables the Post-its to be easily attached and removed without leaving marks or residue. The names “Post-it” and “Post-it note”—as well as the canary yellow color—are trademarks of 3M, the company which invented and manufactures them. Accepted generic terms for competitors include “sticky notes” or “repositionable” or “repositional notes;” nonetheless, Post-it note is frequently used as a generic term for any such product.

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It All Began with a Mistake

The Post-it note was invented in 1968 by Dr. Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist who stumbled upon a glue that was not sticky enough. In 1974, a colleague of his, Arthur Fry, was singing in a church choir and frustrated that his bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal. In a moment of insight, Fry realized that Silver’s reusable adhesive would provide precisely what he needed, and the Post-it note concept was born. If it could be coated on paper, Silver’s adhesive would hold a bookmark in place without damaging the page on which it was placed. Fry requested a sample of the adhesive that Silver developed and began experimenting. He coated only one edge of the paper so that the portion extending from a book would not be sticky. Fry used some of his experiments to write notes to his boss. Both Silver and Fry eventually both won 3M’s highest honors for research and numerous awards within the international engineering community.

3M launched the product in 1977 but it failed as consumers had not yet tried the product and could not easily visualize how they might use it. A year later 3M swamped Boise, Idaho with samples. 90% of people who tried them said that they would buy the product. By 1980 the product was sold nationwide and a year later they were launched in Canada and Europe.

More Post-it note history is available at www.post-it.com/3M/en_US/post-it/contact-us/about-us/.

Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • The Complete Guide to Glues and Adhesives (ISBN: 0873418204)
  • Adhesion and Adhesives Technology (ISBN: 1569903190)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph offering real world examples of how engineers have created products that are either more cost effective or more efficient because glues or adhesives are incorporated in the product.

Alignment to Curriculum Frameworks

Note: Lesson plans in this series are aligned to one or more of the following sets of standards:  

National Science Education Standards Grades K-4 (ages 4 – 9)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of the activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties of objects and materials 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understanding about science and technology 
  • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Science as a human endeavor 

National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (ages 10 – 14)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science

As a result of their activities, all students should develop an understanding of

  • Properties and changes of properties in matter 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • History of science 

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD A: Science as Inquiry

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry 

National Science Education Standards Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18)

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

As a result of their activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Structure and properties of matter 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understandings about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of

  • Historical perspectives 

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 2-5 (Ages 7-11)

Matter and its Interactions 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 2-PS1-2.  Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose.

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-5-ETS1-1.Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2.Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3.Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Next Generation Science Standards Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-14)

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • MS-ETS1-1.  Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Standards for Technological Literacy – All Ages

The Nature of Technology

  • Standard 3: Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study.

Technology and Society

  • Standard 7: Students will develop an understanding of the influence of technology on history.

Design

  • Standard 8: Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
  • Standard 9: Students will develop an understanding of engineering design.
  • Standard 10: Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.

Abilities for a Technological World

  • Standard 11: Students will develop abilities to apply the design process.
  • Standard 13: Students will develop abilities to assess the impact of products and systems.

The Designed World

  • Standard 19: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use manufacturing technologies.
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You are a team of engineers which has to tackle the challenge of building a structure to hold a can of soup or soda at least two inches or five centimeters above a surface.  Your materials include popsicle sticks, paper clips, paper, and glue — but you’ll have to figure out which glue works best!

Research/Preparation Phase

Review the various Student Reference Sheets.

Planning as a Team

Your team has been provided with some “building materials” by your teacher. These are to be made into a structure to hold a can of soup or soda at least two inches or five centimeters above a surface.

Now, meet with your team and devise a plan to build your structure. Think about the different glues available to you — you may only select one type of glue.

Test the different glues for strength using a few different scenarios. These tests will help you decide which glue to select for your building structure. Come up with a method that will be consistent for each type of glue.  It might involve a strength test using a gauge or a simple string or weight test to see if a glue can hold a certain weight for a prior of time (such as overnight).

Write or draw your plan in the box below, including the number of Popsicle sticks and paper clips you plan to use. Present your design to the class, and explain your choice of glue. You may choose to revise your teams’ plan after you receive feedback from class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction Phase

Give it a try! Execute your plan and see if your design worked. If it fails in progress, you may choose another glue choice and start over. Evaluate your teams’ results, complete the evaluation worksheet, and present your findings to the class.

Use this worksheet to evaluate your teams’ results in the Sticky Engineering Challenge!

1. Did you succeed in creating a structure to hold the can? If so, why do you think your design worked? If not, why did it fail?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. How did you test your glues to make your glue selection? Did your testing process work well and provide you with the information/research you needed to make a decision?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. How important was the selection of glue to your structure’s success or failure?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. What designs or methods did you see other teams try that you thought worked well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Did you find that there were many designs in your classroom that met the project goal? Can you think of examples of everyday products that do the same job but look or perform very differently?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Do you think you would have been able to complete this project easier if you were working alone? Why? Why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Plan Translation

Additional Translation Resources