If you have been following my blog for very long you may already know my story. If not, here is the quick version: I taught third grade for many years and then switched to a STEM Lab position in 2013. I had no idea what I was doing…seriously.
I had no resources and learned from reading blogs. My first STEM challenges with students worked and we had fun and we learned a ton. The problem was the length of time it took to complete the challenges. We spent as long as five weeks to complete the activities!
Not good! Storing the student’s work from week to week with 16-17 classes was just too much. We also lost some continuity from week to week.
I had to re-think this. Thank goodness for the STEM Spaghetti Challenge!
Late in September of that first fall in the STEM Lab, my fifth graders finally finished their rescue challenge and it was time to try something new.
I had read about a challenge that used spaghetti as a building material. Mind you, this was not surprising to me. For years I had been the Science Club sponsor at my school and the students in science club built structures using spaghetti many times. So, I thought, why not?
Why Not, Indeed!
Here is what happened. I placed the materials in brown paper bags along with a card listing the task rules.
I introduced this to the students as a ONE DAY CHALLENGE. They cheered. They were very excited to start and finish something on the same day. Then they opened the bags and found spaghetti!
The premise behind this fun challenge is that students must build a structure using spaghetti and tape and add a heavy object to the top of it. It is very tricky! Look at the photos! Do you see the strings being used as tie-downs? That is one of the reasons this challenge can work.
Students had to learn quickly how to create those guide wires and balance their skinny spaghetti legs.
The Ever-Evolving Spaghetti Challenge
This challenge has become an annual event for us! However, I change it up often. I add a rule or new materials or something to the whole idea to just give it a completely new look.
Some of the changes were purposeful and some were accidental. Keep reading!
The Blueprint Models
One year we tried creating a blueprint. The rule was that after drawing the blueprint the teams had to build the tower exactly like the blueprint.
We used graph paper for the blueprints. In the photos you can see two drawings that are labeled well. We always label our planning sketches by indicating what the materials are in the drawings.
Now look at this set of photos. Notice the legs in the top two photos. Their sketches are spot-on with the way the tower is being built.
The blueprint “forces” students to stick with their ideas. Too often students will abandon their plans when something goes awry. The blueprint means they must stick with their design and solve problems.
Now, this is a sketch that was a little bit different.
When I first looked at this sketch I did not understand what the team was going to attempt. When I came back later and saw their tower I realized what had happened. Their plan was to use a lot of legs in a teepee style, but they could not decide how to draw it. They explained that the drawing was an overhead view of the structure. They were concerned that their tower was going to be very short since they broke the spaghetti into tiny pieces.
TIP: What is the goal of this version of the STEM Spaghetti Challenge? In the example above the goal was to build a tower that exactly follows the blueprint your team designs. The team did this. The goal was not to have a tall tower or the tallest in the class. Just something to think about as your students build.
The Bell Tower
We added a little variety to the Spaghetti Challenge tower one Christmas. Instead of using a marshmallow at the top of the tower- we used a silver bell!
Yes, I know! There is no spaghetti in the bell tower. So, how is it a version? Well, my thinking was that the purpose of the spaghetti challenge is to get a tower to hold up an object that is obviously too heavy for the legs of the structure. The bell tower does this! We used materials to make the structure hold up the bell and it was just heavy enough to create a problem to solve. To make it even harder the students had to design a way to ring the bell- without just shaking the structure!
The Bell Tower was really interesting. Making the bell ring became a difficulty that I did not expect. Students wanted to just reach up and hit it or pull a tiny string. But, if the tower is 100 feet tall in real life you could not do that.
I compared it to a church bell and they understood the string had to reach the ground in order for a real-life person to ring the bell.
An Accidental Version
Yes, I forgot to buy marshmallows.
And I did not realize it until I had all the spaghetti counted out for each team. So I improvised- quickly.
I just went through my cabinets until I settled on something that was a little bit heavy and could be added to the top of the tower. Pom-poms!
You would think this would be easier than any of the versions, but it was not! The pom-pom had to be attached to the top of the tower.
Think about it. With a marshmallow, you can just stab the spaghetti through the sticky goo. Pom-poms did not work that way. Students had to invent a way to attach them. They tied them with string (check the photo) and also made little nests of spaghetti at the top.
We loved this version of the Great Spaghetti Tower Challenge!
Which method will you try?
No matter which version you try this is a fun tower challenge. This resource is in my shop or at Tpt and it has all the versions included!
Also, I have a recent post re-write of this challenge that tells more of how this challenge came to be: Some Truth and Some Spaghetti