This is going to be hard to believe, but some of our best STEM Challenges have been created by accident. The STEM Bucket Tower challenge is one of those!
Building boats was another total spur-of-the-moment challenge. I literally came to school one morning and started going through cabinets to pull out materials I thought kids would want to use to build a boat. They loved this activity so much and it’s still one of favorites.
Bucket Towers is another great example of an “accidental” challenge.
How was this accidental?
Great question! We have built a lot of different towers in the STEM Lab- spaghetti, index card, toothpicks, straws, foil, and more! In fact, the straw tower activity prompted me to start thinking about a new tower.
I wanted a challenge that used straws because at the time I had about 5000 straws in a cabinet. (That’s a great story all by itself and I did a blog post about it >>>It’s All About Those Straws)
Anyway, I knew we would use straws, but what is going to make this a different tower….hmmmm?
What if something had to be suspended within the tower?
Bucket Towers are Born!
Seriously, that is all it took- just thinking about suspending something inside a tower. But, next, I had to decide what that would be.
I started opening cabinets looking for the perfect object that we could hang in or on a tower. Ping pong balls sounded great and I thought about the New Year’s Eve ball drop from a tower in New York City. Creating a clock apparatus might work because plenty of towers have clocks on them.
Then I thought about window washing platforms on skyscrapers. That would definitely be something suspended from a tower.
BAM! What if the object was not a platform, but a bucket? And I had the perfect little buckets. Yes, I know the buckets are just 3-ounce cups, but they don’t weigh very much and it’s easy to punch holes in them.
The basic premise of this challenge is to build the tower and create a logical reason the tower has a bucket in it!
The tower in the photo above looks very simple and appears to work well. But, did it?
Of course, I also added that the bucket needs to hold weight. Kids learned pretty quickly that a heavy bucket is going to change everything about how the towers work!
Sometimes you need a lot of extra legs!
Towers did tend to sway or buckle under the weight of the bucket, so kids resorted to adding more and more support legs!
And more! Sometimes they add legs until they run out of straws!
What can you do with a piece of string?
My students are really good at using a piece of string to anchor towers or structures to the table. Not only does the tower in the photo below use the string to hold the bucket aloft, but the string is also attached to the table and supporting the tower.
A clever solution, don’t you think?
The tower in this photo is supported by multiple wide-set legs and somehow it remained standing. We called it the “Spider Tower”!
We add weight to the bucket until it is compromised. Sometimes, that little bucket fills up.
Adding the weights one at a time allows students to see what spots on the structure are collapsing. This gives them the information they need in order to improve their tower.
Have you tried this one yet?
Bucket Towers is one of our favorite challenges and basically uses a small amount of easily gathered materials.