Wind-Resistant Towers STEM Challenge

My colleagues and I are currently beginning an integrated unit on weather. For each of our classes (PE, music, library, art, and STEM), our kindergarten students will be exploring a different aspect of weather. In my STEM class, we’re exploring how wind can be both a challenge and an opportunity for engineers. Our first challenge — designing wind-resistant towers — was incredibly exciting. It’s amazing how changing the context of the building task by adding in a hair dryer made my kindergarteners laugh and try again instead of crying when their creations toppled!

The Prompt: 

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Click for a copy of my prompt slides for this challenge!

Grade/Skill Level Recommendation: K-2, but could adapt upwards as well!

Constraints:

  • No adhesives allowed!
  • May only use provided building materials

Supplies:

  • Variety of building materials, ideally a mix of some that would be effective for building a strong tower and others that would not. I offered my students Magnatiles, Legos, paper cups, Keva Planks, Unifix cubes, base ten blocks, and dominoes. Next time I’d also like to include K’nex for their height potential.
  • Hair dryer
  • Rulers (optional)

Procedure:

Quickly introduce the challenge to students by sharing the prompt and providing a quick introduction to skyscrapers. I discussed with my kindergarten students how engineers and architects need to accomplish two things when they build skyscrapers — creating a sturdy structure than can support the massive weight of the building and developing a plan for withstanding strong winds.

Have students begin constructing their towers from the provided materials. When they have something that is ready to test, you can have students use a ruler to measure it (optional) and then blow the hair dryer on it for about 10 seconds.

If student towers topple during the wind test, encourage the builders to reflect on what they noticed and think about how they might create a stronger structure. If a student has a successful tower, ask, “Can you make it taller?”

I worked on this challenge for the entirety of my 40 minute kindergarten block, but they would have been happy to keep building beyond that time.

Teacher Tips:
Know ahead of time where your easily-accessible electrical outlets are and designate specific areas nearby where students should construct their towers. Or track down a long extension cord that can allow your hair dryer to move around your space with you.

I was the official controller of the hair dryer with my kindergarten students, but older kiddos could likely handle being in charge of the wind.

Be willing to test towers that will easily topple!

Take the time to make connections to existing buildings around the world if students create something that resembles them. Maybe your classroom will also have a young Gustave Eiffel!

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