As all teachers know, the day before a break is always hectic. Students are buzzing with pre-break excitement and teachers are usually, well… exhausted. For some reason students always think the day before a break is a free day, requiring no work or energy from them. That’s why I love to pack these days chalk full of fun, yet educational activities where students can talk and have fun, but are also problem solving and thinking critically.
One of the activities I did with my 5th graders on the day before Spring Break was called “Candy Tower.” I found some ideas for this activity on Pinterest, but changed it a little bit to suit my students. The students had A BLAST and are still talking about the activity today. They even told one student, who left school early that day, how much he had missed out.
Question to Explore:
How can we create the tallest free standing tower using spice drops and toothpicks?
- 100 toothpicks for each pair of students
- Spice drops (2 small bags for each pair)
- State the task: “We are going to see who can build the tallest, free standing tower in 7 minutes, only using toothpicks and spice drops.”
- Students used what they knew about structures to draft a model of their tower.
- Under their drawings, students explained why they think their model will work.
- Next, students were paired up. With their partners they compared designs and chose one to create or they could make a hybrid of both.
- Once students had decided on a plan, I passed out the supplies.
- I set the timer for seven minutes and students began to build.
- As they built their structures, I walked around to ask questions about their process. I could tell that students were really thinking like engineers! One group decided that if they used two toothpicks instead of one, it created a stronger foundation. Another group discovered after some trial and error that creating triangles (using three toothpicks and three spice drops) was stronger and more efficient than squares.
- At the end of the seven minutes, all toothpicks and spice drops were dropped and no hands were allowed to touch the towers. This was the real test. While some structures looked taller, they did not have a strong enough foundation and ended up toppling over.
Once the activity was finished, students returned to the models they drew. On the back of the paper, they drew the model they actually created and wrote about the revisions they decided to make (what worked/didn’t work from their first model). We shared out some of their processes as a class and talked about discoveries they had made. I asked questions like: What model created the strongest foundation? and what didn’t work? If your tower fell over at any point, what revisions did you make to help it stand?
All in all, I would definitely suggest this project! My 5th graders loved it and it really got them thinking like engineers!