STEM Design Challenge: Card Tower

Grade Levels
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th
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50.49 MB   |   70 pages


Do you have spare index cards, at least 30 minutes, and a class to inspire? Run this challenge as a fun, quick task for a rainy day, or select from multiple options provided to add depth and rigor to extend this activity to days or weeks of active learning!

Benefits of this STEM Design Challenge:
- Focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and application of learning
- High levels of student engagement
- The potential to hit upon all NGSS ETS standards depending on the depth and number of iterations you choose to implement in your classroom (modifications included)
- Highly flexible and differentiated for materials, timing, grade levels, and rigor.
Detail on how to modify to add/reduce rigor and complexity is provided in the Teacher Guide.

The basic premise:
Students work against a list of criteria and constraints to build a tower that is designed to meet fundamental criteria for height and/or stability. Multiple iterations are recommended to get the most student benefit, but this can also be treated as a one-off activity. (Please see the downloadable preview to get an idea of your options.)


This resource is also available in the STEM CHALLENGE YEAR-ROUND MEGA-BUNDLE at a great discount!


Each design iteration should be planned for approximately 45 – 60 min. if you are including data gathering and analysis rather than just building for fun. I recommend working on STEM Design Challenges in 3-4 iterations spanning a month. (More detail is included in the Teacher Guide.)

Topics that can be integrated as part of this challenge (further explained in the Teacher Guide):

- Measurement (with or without conversions)
- 3-D solids
- Perimeter
- Area
- Cells (building blocks of life, cell specialization)
- Independent variables, dependent variables, control variables
- Designing and performing experiments
- Process/explanatory writing

Materials you’ll need to do the activity are easily modified.

Sample/suggested materials:
For each student or group:
– 20 or more 3x5 index cards
– Tape (constrain to 12 in. or less)
– Rulers/measuring tapes (tip: pick up paper measuring tapes from Ikea)
– Copies of data recording & analyzing handouts
– Optional: Scissors, pipe cleaners

Product includes:

Quick Start / Low Prep Guide with handouts
- If you don't have much time to prep, start here for a condensed explanation of what to print to get started in a hurry!

Teacher guide
- NGSS aligned standards, Grades 2 – 8
- Thorough directions to conduct and get the most from the activity
- Materials and timing
- Activity overview and modifications
- What to say and not to say during the build
- Post-build extension activities list
- Managing results
- Tips and guidelines for all student handouts

Student Handouts (* indicates handout is also provided in editable format)
Criteria and Constraints lists

- Version 1: simple*
- Version 2: complex*

Results and Data Analysis (time-saver version, within group)
- Version 1: younger students
- Version 2: older students*

Shared Results and Data Analysis (in-depth version, across groups)
- Version 1: one criterion*
- Version 2: double criteria*

Group Discussion Questions
- Eight questions on two pages*

Process Flow Map
- Version 1: younger students*
- Version 2: older students*

Design Report Extension
- Version 1: younger students*
- Version 2: older students*

Math Extension
- Version 1: younger students*
- Version 2: older students*

Design a Science Experiment Extension
- Version 1: Does Base Perimeter Affect Tower Height?*
- Version 2: Does Base Area Affect Tower Height?*

EDIT January 2016: A Valentine’s Day "Cards in the Clouds" version of this challenge is included as part of this purchase! Keep an eye out for more holiday-themed STEM Challenges coming soon!

Please download the preview to see the student handouts, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!

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Total Pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
1 hour

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STEM Design Challenge: Card Tower
STEM Design Challenge: Card Tower
STEM Design Challenge: Card Tower
STEM Design Challenge: Card Tower