Activity 1: Engineering Method Straw Towers

A tower may be defined as an exceptionally tall building or part of a building, or an exceptionally tall structure used for some functional purpose. In the past, towers were usually used to house bells (bell towers), for observation (watch towers), or for signaling (light houses). Perhaps the earliest record of a tower comes from the Bible where the story of the tower of Babel is told. Other notable towers include the Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower, two completely different types of towers. Today there are many more types of towers that are used for a wide variety of functions. A few examples are transmission line towers, radar towers, radio and TV broadcasting antenna towers, towers for suspension bridges, even the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. For this activity, teams will design and build a unique tower from supplied material, and test the strength of their design.

1. 2. 3.

What factors do you think are important in the design process? What design features will provide the strongest tower? How could you optimize the design features mentioned in question 2 using plastic straws and masking tape? Make a preliminary sketch in your engineering notebook.

As always, include an objective or essential question for this engineering activity and share that objective with a teammate.


E X P E R I M E N T I N G Designing a Straw Tower

Using the broad outline of “Design Process” described in your text (ref. pgs. 34-45), design and construct your straw tower. Be sure to document every step in your engineering notebook. Each group of 2-3 team members will be given the following materials: • 50 plastic straws • 1 m of 1 inch wide masking tape Using the supplied materials, you and your team members will construct a tower that satisfies the following requirements:


• • • • • • •

Height of tower: No restriction, yet as tall as possible No restriction on depth or width of tower No restriction on shape of tower Tape may only be applied at joints between straws Top of tower must hold standard size tennis ball. Tower must stand by itself for 1 minute Tower must be carried to testing station.



By now, you have had the opportunity to build and test your straw tower. As a team, discuss the following: The definition of iteration according to Wikipedia is “the act of repeating a process usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal or target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration," and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.“ 1. What role, if any, did iteration play in your team’s straw tower design? 2. Describe the benefit of utilizing iteration when designing a product. Structure played a key role in every team’s design. 3. What key structural features led to a successful tower? Why? (Feel free to research!) 4. During this activity, everyone came to the challenge with a tabula rasa (blank slate), meaning no team was allowed time to prepare ahead of time, and no method was presented for solving the problem. What kind of preplanning would have been beneficial?


C r i t i c a l

T h i n k i n g


Why should I care?
In the Engineering Methods Unit Challenge, you will be reverse engineering an Etch-aSketch using many of the concepts that you learn throughout this unit. The first concept that you’ve considered is the role of design in engineering. How might design be used in regards to your challenge?


Straw Tower Rubric 10-9 pts
Diagram drawn extremely well.

8-7 pts
Diagram drawn Satisfactorily. Drawing neat. Good detail. Most parts labeled. Understandable Materials used properly but some wasted material. Area reasonably cleaned up by the bell. Materials being put away at bell.

6-5 pts
Diagram messy. Not labeled. Some detail. Difficult to read or understand. Some or most materials wasted damaged or lost. Area not clean by the time bell rings. Materials put away after bell. Group not cooperating. Not respecting or listening to others. 3 or more times warned for lack of cooperation or not participating. Arguing or inappropriate discussion.

4-0 pts
No diagram turned in. Poor or sloppy drawing.


Professional look. Highly detailed. Parts labeled. Easy to understand. Materials properly used and cared for.

Very difficult to read or understand.

Most materials lost, damaged or wasted. Work area left a mess.

Material Useage

No materials wasted. Area cleaned up thoroughly by the bell.

Group works very well together. Ideas from all members listened to and respected. Excellent participation.

Group works adequately well. For the most part ideas respected and listened to by all members. 1 or 2 warnings given for lack of cooperation or participation. Some arguing or inappropriate discussion.

Group not attempting to work or cooperate. Inappropriate discussions not related to project. Total lack of participation.


Appropriate discussion of topic.

Very well built. Supports mass easily without leaning or swaying.

Structure stands on own but leans or wobbles. Will support mass. Project instructions followed. Completed on time.

Structure stands but will not support mass. Project instructions not followed. Requires extra time to complete project.

Structure will not stand on own. Will not support mass. Structure not finished even with extra time to complete.

Structure Design

Project instructions followed. Project completed on time.


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