Water Tower Challenge

This lesson focuses on the growth of tall buildings and their structures. Students work in teams to develop the tallest tower they can build with limited materials that can support the weight of a golf ball for two minutes.

  • Learn about structural engineering.
  • Learn about engineering design and redesign.
  • Learn how engineering can help solve society’s challenges.
  • Learn about teamwork and problem solving.

Age Levels: 8 – 18

Lesson Plan Overview

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials

  • 50 Plastic/Paper Straws
  • 50 Pipe Cleaners
  • 25 Paperclips 

Testing Materials (per team)

  • 1 Golf Ball or similar size/weight ball

Materials (per team)

  • 1 Golf Ball or similar size/weight ball

Process

Test the strength of each structure by placing the ball on the tower at a point no more than 20% below the upper height of the tower.

Design Challenge

You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of building the tallest tower possible that will support the weight of a golf ball for 2 minutes.

Criteria

  • Tower must support the weight of a golf ball for 2-minutes.
  • The weight of the golf ball must be supported near the top of the tower, with the bottom of the ball no more than 20% below the upper height of the tower.

Constraints

  • Can only use 50 straws, 50 pipe cleaners, and 25 paper clips for the design.
  • Tape can not be used to connect the materials.
  • Design a solution in the time given.
  1. Break class into teams of 2-4.
  2. Hand out the Tall Tower – Applying Technology to Solve Problems 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. If time allows, review “Real World Applications” prior to conducting the design challenge.
  5. Before instructing students to start brainstorming and sketching their designs, ask them to consider the following:
    ● What are the different ways you can bend or change the shape of your materials?
    ● What is the strongest shape?
    ● How might you reinforce the materials to make them stronger?
    ● How will you connect your materials without tape?
  6. Provide each team with their materials.
  7. Explain that students must develop a tower from everyday items, and that the tower must support the weight of a golf ball for 2-minutes. The weight of the golf ball must be supported near the top of the tower, with the bottom of the ball no more than 20% below the upper height of the tower.
  8. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  9. 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.
  10. Students meet and develop a plan for their tower. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class. Teams may trade unlimited materials with other teams to develop their ideal parts list.
  11. Teams build their designs.
  12. Test the tower designs by placing a golf ball near the top of the tower, with the bottom of the ball no more than 20% below the upper height of the tower.
  13. Teams should document the height of their tower and how many materials they used to build their tower.
  14. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  15. For more content on the topic, see the “Real World Applications” and “Digging Deeper” sections.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. Describe the shape or construction of the tower that was the tallest and won the challenge? How was this tower different from yours, if yours did not win?
  2. If you had a chance to do this project again, what would your team have done differently?
  3. Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?
  4. If you could have used one additional material (tape, glue, wood sticks, foil – as examples) which would you choose and why?
  5. Do you think that once a building is designed and approved for construction that many aspects are changed during the building process? Why or why not?
  6. How long do you think it will take before a building is constructed that surpasses the height of the Burj Khalifa? Where do you think it will be built? Why?

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

Tall Structures

The CN Tower (picture to the left), located in Toronto,  Ontario, Canada, is a communications and observation tower standing 553.3 metres tall. It was recognized as the tallest free-standing structure on land in the world for 31 years until it was recently surpassed in height by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The Burj Khalifa was built in 2009 and is 828 meters high. The third tallest is the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., which stands at 527 m

(1,729.0 ft) when measured to its pinnacle, The tallest wooden structure is the Gliwice Radio Tower in Poland, which stands at 118 meters high and was built in 1935. The chart to the right shows the height comparison between the Burj Khalifa, the CN Tower, and the Willis Tower.

In January 2010, the world’s highest outdoor observation deck located in Burj Khalifa, has opened to the public. Hundreds of people, mostly families, queued up for tickets to Level 124 of Burj Khalifa – and the chance of being among the first to experience its stunning views across the city. The view is said to be similar to what you might see from an airplane. The ascent to the 124th floor is by a double-deck elevator, each deck carrying up to 14 people and travelling at 10 meters per second. In less than a minute, the elevator reaches the observation deck, the world’s only public observatory at this height with an outdoor terrace. High windows circle the entire viewing platform, and visitors can scan the horizon and the distant streets below through computerized viewfinders, which also have pre-programmed day and nighttime vistas of the city and surrounding region.

  • Engineers: Inventors and problem-solvers of the world. Twenty-five major specialties are recognized in engineering (see infographic).
  • Engineering Habits of Mind (EHM): Six unique ways that engineers think.
  • Engineering Design Process (EDP): Process engineers use to solve problems.
  • Criteria: Conditions that the design must satisfy like its overall size, etc.
  • Constraints: Limitations with material, time, size of team, etc.
  • Prototype: A working model of the solution to be tested.
  • Iteration: Test & redesign is one iteration. Repeat (multiple iterations).
  • Weight: The force exerted on the object by gravity. (Units: lbs/Newtons).
  • Percentage: Part of a whole expressed in hundreds (½ = 50%).

Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • How Tall Is Tall?: Comparing Buildings (ISBN: 978-1432939557)
  • Reinforced Concrete Design of Tall Buildings (ISBN: 978-1439804803)
  • Construction Technology For Tall Buildings (ISBN: 978-9812818614)

Writing Activity

Write an essay or a paragraph about how engineering advances led to the explosive growth of vertical buildings at the turn of the 20th century.

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 
  • Understanding about 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 
  • Position and motion of objects 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology 

As a result of activities, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 
  • Understanding about science and technology 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

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

  • Types of resources 
  • Science and technology in local challenges 

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

  • Motions and forces 

CONTENT STANDARD E: Science and Technology
As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design 

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

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

  • Populations, resources, and environments 
  • Science and technology in society 

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

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

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

  • Science as a human endeavor 
  • 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 

CONTENT STANDARD B: Physical Science 

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

  • Motions and forces 
  • Conservation of energy and increase in disorder 

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 F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

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

  • Personal and community health 
  • Natural resources 
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges 

CONTENT STANDARD G: History and Nature of Science

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

  • Science as a human endeavor 
  • 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 properties that are best suited for an intended purpose.

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 3-PS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

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

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.

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

Engineering Design 

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • 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 1: Students will develop an understanding of the characteristics and scope 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 4: Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.
  • Standard 5: Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment.
  • Standard 6: Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

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.

Engineering Teamwork and Planning

You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of developing your own water tower than can deliver water to a paper cup that is about 36 inches or 90 cm away in a controlled manner.  This means you must be able to stop and start the flow and fill the cup up just half way.  You’ll be given a range of items to build with, but first with design your system on paper, then build it and test it.  You’ll reflect on the experience, and present your designs to your class.

Research Phase

Read the materials provided to you by your teacher. If you have access to the internet, explore your town’s water delivery system and see how engineers designed your local water tower.

Planning and Design Phase

Engineers have built many different designs for water towers, but they all achieve the same goal of delivering water in a controlled manner to homes and businesses.  Now it is your turn!  In the space below or on a separate piece of paper, draw a detailed diagram showing the plan for your water tower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Materials you will need:

 

 

 

Presentation Phase
Present your plan and drawing to the class, and consider the plans of other teams.  You may wish to fine tune your own design.

Build it!  Test it!
Next build your tower and test it.  You may share unused building materials with other teams, and trade materials too.  Be sure to watch what other teams are doing and consider the aspects of different designs that might be an improvement on your team’s plan.

Reflection

Complete the reflection questions below:

1) How similar was your original design to the actual water tower your team built?

 

 

 

2) If you found you needed to make changes during the construction phase, describe why your team decided to make revisions.

 

 

 

3) Which water tower that another team made was the most interesting to you? Why?

 

 

 

4) Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?

 

 

 

5) If you could have used one additional material (tape, glue, wood sticks, foil — as examples) which would you choose and why?

 

 

 

6) Do you think your design is scalable? Would it work efficiently if the cup were 360 inches or 900 cm away from the water source? Why? Why not?

Lesson Plan Translation

Additional Translation Resources

Downloadable Student Certificate of Completion