Without a doubt, this little challenge is one of the best ever! It’s super simple and amazingly complex.
I know, oxymoron, right? Let me explain! The simplicity is for you since the challenge uses one material. The complexity is for the students because this challenge is not easy for them. Oh, they think it will be, but it turns out to be frustrating. Trust me- there will be groaning.
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This is the perfect challenge to get your kids started with STEM!
- They can be creative.
- They can try unusual designs.
- They might try something even more challenging!
- They can try a traditional card stacking method.
- They will be competitive!
- Christmas Version!
Kids will try so many ways to build this tower of cards. They will fold the cards, make zig-zags, try boxes, and a lot of the cards will be rolled.
TIP: Any size index card will work fine and I don’t count the cards. I take a new stack and give each group about the same amount. It’s always too many! The towers will reach a height that can’t be improved on because they collapse so easily.
TIP: Do you use tape? I have tried masking tape with this challenge, but only once. I found that the tape presented too many extra problems. Some of the more elaborate designs (like the ones in the photos above) are using tape. Kids will try sculptural arrangements because of the tape. They are creative, but rarely stand up. Tape adds weight to the towers and they seem to collapse more easily. NOTE: If you feel like your students need tape, then give them 2-3 feet. One idea is to try this challenge with tape and then repeat it later in the year without tape. What a great discussion you can have about how the two building events differ!
Speaking of unusual designs… take a look at second graders completing this task.
(They do have tape because they are 2nd graders!) I watched these really small children inventing all sorts of ways to make the cards stand up. They really wanted a rolled card. This is harder to make than you would think.
TIP: The trick with a rolled card is the edges. They must be aligned so the card will stand without slanting. This is hard to do with second grade and the tape helped them. With older students, they have to roll the cards tightly and they do stay together even without tape.
The rolled cards and many floors is a popular way to solve this challenge. What the kids can’t foresee is that the bottom layer must be very sturdy in order to hold up the weight of all those top layers. It makes this design the most challenging way to complete this project.In the two photos above you can probably guess which tower toppled first. The one on the left fell over because of the bottom and middle support legs. The team used only two rolled card columns. On the right, the team used five columns which give more support for the upper decks.
Traditional Card Stacking
Someone always discovers the real trick to this challenge. Fold a card in half and use it as the “column” that holds up a flat card and just keep repeating.
Above, I watched this fifth grader meticulously place each card so that it was perfectly centered, aligned, and balanced before he would move to the next card or layer. It fell down, a lot….
TIP: These towers are quite precarious and every tower will eventually collapse. This is such a perfect opportunity for kids to practice perseverance and patience.
We have learned to just take deep breaths and start all over. My tip is to just sympathize with the frustrated students and encourage them to think about what made it fall and try not to let that happen again. (Which is easier said than done because sometimes they fall due to someone breathing on them!)
Oh my, this challenge is one of the most competitive that we complete. Every group wants to have the tallest tower possible. Just imagine what happened one day when I told a fifth-grade class that the second graders had towers so tall they had to stand on their chairs to place the top cards.
They got busy quickly to beat the heights of those 2nd-grade towers! (By the way, I do sometimes have to use two meter sticks together to measure the heights of these!)
This Tower resource has an additional version that features a way to use the idea at Christmas time. Even if we have already completed this tower earlier in the school year we still do it again in December with the added material (think Santa)!