Young student engineers tackle design challenges

Nov 16, 2018

ROCHESTER — On Nov. 15 Rochester Memorial School third graders were handed a challenge: using only paper, scissors, paper plates, tin foil, popsicle sticks and straws as building materials and a pipe cleaner, rubber band and five envelope labels as “connectors,” build a tower that can support the weight of a tennis ball.

The students wrested with how to solve the problem in small groups as part of the school’s Fun Friday effort. The first goal was to build a 12 inch tower. Then students were challenged to build a 24 inch tower, a 36 inch tower, and a 36 inch tower that could support the weight of two tennis balls.

Sandi Sollaur, Library Media Specialist, and designated “official measurer” for the day, explained that the students had been building up to this challenge as part of a series of engineering-related activities.

First they had been asked to make a paper tower. Then a paper tower with other materials included. This week the new challenge was the added weight. And next week (spoiler alert) the groups will work on building bridges.

The students came up with one idea tried it, saw if it worked, measured their towers to see how much height it added, and then refined their design. 

“That one,” said Olivia Lane, pointing to a teal paper tube that made up the base of her tower, “was holding up really well, so we made more.”

Nathan Tobin explained how he was able to find more platforms to layer between paper tubes in his group’s tower.

“We didn’t have enough materials, so we cut a plate and it made more height,” he said, to explain the design process. 

Sollaur calls Fun Fridays, “my favorite day to teach.” Just based on the student involvement, the name seems apt.