I never dreamed when we invented this challenge that it would become so popular. Except for Building Boats and Roller Coasters, this is the challenge that I get the most questions about.
I promise this is what happened:
I had a class prepared for a tower building challenge. We were going to build satellite dish towers. But, sadly, I forgot to buy the clear cups I needed, so I opened the cabinets to see what else I had. Those little white cups were all lined up and the Bucket Tower Challenge was born.
Seriously, is that how you really plan?
No, of course not. I put a lot of thought into the Satellite Dish Tower but just didn’t have the right materials. We did complete it later, but on this particular day, I grabbed the little white plastic cups and some hole punchers and invented the Bucket Tower Challenge on the spot.
Okay, there is more of a back story to this one!
Last spring I asked if teachers could add some items to our school supply lists. I figured if some of the kids brought things I use often in the lab it would be very helpful. Now, I know I asked for pencils, but apparently, I also asked for straws.
Yep, that’s a lot of straws.
So, I started trying to invent things we could build using straws. And I thought about towers first- cause we love to build towers. That’s how the idea for the satellite dish tower was invented.
But, we know how that turned out- so how did we invent the bucket tower?
The first class that came in the lab helped me. I gave them the background of the story – which was basically a reason for needing a tower with a bucket. The test class jumped right into this challenge!
The Test Class
I use STEM challenges multiple times and after the second class, I usually have all the kinks worked out. My students LOVE it when I tell them they are the Test Class. They know this means that I have NO IDEA what is going to happen and we kind of make it up as we go….
I am serious.
The test class will start to work on something and we have to stop frequently and talk about what is happening. We often add rules right in the middle of the task when we run into problems.
Here’s the first kink in the Bucket Towers.
I knew better, but just didn’t think it through and gave each group a roll of tape.
Take a look:
Is this tower made of straws or tape?
Needless to say, we added a rule to the next class and limited the amount of tape being used.
Next kink in the task was the BUCKET! Check this photo!
Mind you, that is a spectacular structure and it held 200+ pennies when we tested it. But is it a bucket if it’s attached to the structure? We had quite a discussion about this and decided the rule needed to be added that the bucket could not be restrained. (You can’t tell in the photo but the straw through the bucket is attached to the structure’s frame. It will turn over, but it does not swing freely.)
Was the string provided only to use with the bucket?
What if you don’t need all the string? Can it be used to help tie down the structure? The arrow is pointing to a string being used as a guide wire. We decided this was alright and actually very clever!
Here are a couple more looks at the different things made:
The one below also used the string to keep the structure upright. And look at the way they used the bendy part of the straw!
Overall, the test class did a great job and helped me refine this challenge for the next four classes.
CONCLUSION: We LOVED Bucket Towers! This is a simple challenge that we repeat every year!
- It’s super easy to put together!
- Materials are inexpensive and things you probably already have.
- Kids love it because it’s just enough outside the box to allow a lot of creativity!
- Every tower looks different and the kids love sharing their finished products.