May 19, 2017

STEM Challenge: Card Towers

If you're looking for a straight-forward challenge with the simplest of materials, Card Towers will be right up your alley!  This one is a classic, but I've got a few ideas to make some tweaks to fire up the imagination and engagement! And this is a special post for the blog/vlog because it means I've finally caught up! All 45 challenges (to date) have a blog, complete with video walk-through!  

I'm not done yet, but I am thrilled to have finally caught up! Definitely stay tuned; I have more challenges in the hopper for 2017-2018!

STEM Challenge: In Card Towers, students will make a tower designed for height and/or stability! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students will design a tower for maximum height and/or stability. Already been there, done that? I have a few new challenge goals to shake things up. 

Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! However, if you prefer to read it, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post. :)

Check out the video below to see Card Towers in action:

Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! While this is a stand-alone challenge, I have created 45 challenges for the entire school year! Most are themed to accompany the seasons. And, as I mentioned at the top, each has its own blog post and video walk-through. You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.


STEM Challenge: In Card Towers, students will make a tower designed for height and/or stability! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to the very best day of the week, STEM challenge day. Today we're going to be talking about Card Towers and today's a little extra special because about a year ago I started making these video walk troughs with a goal of creating some STEM professional development videos as well as a video walk through for all of my 45 STEM challenges. And this is the 45th STEM challenge.

Now this might look a little bit familiar to you, you might remember that back in February we did a version of this called Cards in the Clouds. I'll put a link to that video walk through in the description below. You might want to take a second to check that out either before this video or after, just so that you get a full sense of all the different options available to you. The main difference between this and the Valentine's Day version is this one has options for deeper data analysis. It also has different ideas for the extension activities and, of course, I'm gonna give you some ideas today to make this a completely different, unique version of the challenge so that you could have done both in your classroom.

There are three areas you can look at. These three areas are gonna be the criteria and Constraints List, the Materials and the Extensions. You can modify all three or just one or two. With that, let's get started. The first thing you always want to look at is your Criteria and Constraints List. So, if in Cards in Clouds you built only for height, you might want to add in the stability challenge, again, its environmental conditions, like earthquakes, wind or rain. That's pretty sturdy.

But what if you've already done that? Of course, I'm bringing you some new ideas today. You can provide students with some little plastic people or candies that have to be incorporated every six inches in the tower or at various levels of the tower as you see in these examples here. You could also change the main goal to be the tower with the highest volume. If you do that and you still want it to be a vertical tower, you'll probably want to set at least a minimum height requirement so that they don't build it out as much as they build up. And as in the Valentine version, one of my favorite things to do is to give students and uneven surface on which to build. That definitely adds a lot of difficulty. So before I said something about putting a book on the table and their towers had to straddle the book. A small variation on that would be to have students build over an obstacle, maybe a river, so that each side of the tower would be on either side of the river.

For materials, the original version of this used just 3x5 or 4x6 index cards. And this is an area where you can really change the challenge up. As you can see in this example, I've used business cards and if you just put a call out to your non-teacher friends or the parents of your students, I guarantee you just about every office in the country has outdated business cards that for whatever reason, they just never seem to throw away. Now, if you get a lot of these donations, you're gonna find that, of course, the business cards are not all created equal, some are sturdy, some are flimsy, some are slightly different sizes. Make it a fair challenge. You'll either need to divide out sort of an equal amount of each type of card for each group or you can allow the students to choose the business cards from whatever is available and that material selection becomes part of the challenge.

Another thing you can do is give students two full pages of card stock, either letter size or maybe even 12x12. You could do the same thing with just copy paper. Something I think that would be really interesting that I haven't had a chance to try it yet, is to give every group one full size poster board and see what they come up with. I have a feeling that it would generate some very different looking towers. In that case you'll probably want some step stools available or just make a decision if you're okay with students stepping on their chairs, because I think that there's a good chance they could build quite tall towers starting with the poster board.

If you have the time for it, it could be really great to have the students build a tower every day, Monday through Thursday using a different primary material. Every day is a great day for a STEM challenge. Of course, they're gonna have to make some adaptations and changes to their designs as they go because something that works well with one of those materials probably won't with another. And then you'll save your major analysis for the end of the week.

For the extension activities, one thing you can do is have the students analyze their towers and all of the towers for the class. And try to come up with what they think is a list of the most critical factors affecting how tall you can build your tower. So we'll want to take a look at things like, does the shape of the tower matter? Does the shape of the base seem to make and impact, or the perimeter area of that base? And they can pick one of those factors and design and experiment around it, walking through the steps of the scientific method.

Of course, this lends itself very well to doing some graphing of class data. You could have students find out the height of the world’s tallest building, tree, mountain, and then create a relative scale drawing of those objects then have them create a scale for their tower to make it fit in with the items on that list. Either to make it taller than all of the items or somewhere in the middle of those items, or maybe just a little bit shorter. So, for example, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet, if my tower measures 30 inches than I would set a scale to say one inch is equal to ten feet. And if think my tower, in real life, soars above the Statue of Liberty, then perhaps one inch is equal to 20 feet. If you want to tie in some ELA, you can have students read or watch different versions of Rapunzel and then create their own unique, modernized version.

So between this video and the Valentine's one, you have all the basics you need to conduct card towers in your class on your own, but as always, I have added a lot of extra goodies in the resource, so take a second to check it out.

This time saving resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use of second through eight graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials, of course, but the rest is ready and waiting. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge and the tower building materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and set-up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find two editable Criteria and Constraints lists so you can tailor the challenge to your students. For student design analysis handouts there are two versions, five-page expanding room for response for younger students and a three-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll get one set for a height challenge and a second for height and stability.

You'll also find a study group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts you'll find class wide data analysis, graphing templates and a design your own experiment activity, as well as additional math extension design report and process flow templates. You'll also receive a detailed teacher guide and everything that comes with the holiday version of tower building, Cards in the Clouds. This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Mega STEM challenge bundle. Links can be found in the description below the video.

As I mentioned before, this video means I am now caught up with my back library. Every challenge has a video walk through. But, I'm not done. If you've been watching my videos you might have picked up that I try to post once a week. Over the summer I'm gonna give myself a little bit more flexibility, because I have some big projects in mind and they're gonna take a lot of focus. This means it's more important than ever to be following my store and Teachers Pay Teachers and subscribe on YouTube so that you don't miss anything when I pop in and out over the summer. And I'm so excited to share with you all the things I have in store for you this summer and next year, so make sure you stay tuned. Until next time, have a great week.

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