Tennis Ball Towers? Yes, you read that right! They are pretty unbelievable- but even more astounding is that I have never written a blog post totally devoted to this wacky little tower.
I have included it in other posts, but never as a stand-alone. So, here you are STEM friends- the Wackiest Tower challenge ever- with tennis balls!
What Makes the Tennis Ball Tower Wacky?
Well, first let’s define wacky! It means funny in an unusual or peculiar way. I usually think of an uncle of mine that was constantly trying new ways to get rich. Nothing ever seemed to work out and he would just laugh and move on to the next big idea.
So, tennis ball towers… are wacky because:
- They have to be a certain height, but not very tall.
- They have to hold that tennis ball aloft.
- The ball must be a certain height off the tabletop.
- And, then there is a rule about the materials! Ha- it’s a good one.
In other tower challenges, the goal has nearly always been to have the tallest tower.
The tennis ball tower cannot be very tall because the materials are limited.
In fact I have heard this many times, ” Is this all we get?”
Yep. And supplies are not replenished.
This challenge is one of those that I will remind students of the story of Apollo 13. The astronauts aboard that spacecraft had an emergency and had to invent a way to create an oxygen flow or they would die in space. Back on earth, the engineers at NASA gathered together a bunch of really wacky materials that they knew were available on the spacecraft. They set about to build what was needed using only those limited materials. Then that information was relayed to the astronauts who gathered the materials and built what they needed. And it worked. And Apollo 13 returned to earth safely.
So, build a tennis ball towers using a minimum of materials!
Holding the Tennis Ball Aloft
One of the task rules is to hold the ball aloft. It cannot be pierced- for safety reasons, but also because tennis balls cost too much. The first time I tried this challenge I bought several cans of balls and we reuse them every year.
Students will invent the most creative ways to get that ball up in the air. Another rule is that the ball must be off the table a specific height.
Check out those photos above. One team used the craft sticks to make a holder and the other used them as a platform. #kidsneedstem
Use the Materials Efficiently
Do your students know about “tie-downs”? This is one of those things mine learn early-on. String is a valuable tool to use to “tie-down” a structure. Think about cell-phone towers… all of them have many, many wires holding them upright. Or even a power pole. It will have a guide wire helping it stay in position.
The string is a great addition to this tower challenge. Notice the tie-downs in the photos above! So great!
I mean, c’mon, you laughed when you saw this photo! Don’t you love the legs added to this tower?
And, oh my, look how they used the string? And the craft sticks!!
Those straw legs kept collapsing so they added craft sticks as supports.
Full disclosure- this tower is fantastic, but it did not meet the height rule for the tennis ball! 🙁
The Wackiest Rule of All
So, there is one rule that just flips kids out. All of the materials must be used in the final structure.
I know, it seems wasteful, but here is what I tell them:
“All of the materials must be used, but they do not have to be functional.”
Kids: “Can they just be decorations?”
Me: “Yes, absolutely.”
The team in the photo above did not need their string, so they just looped it around the final tower.
I have seen structures that seem to be missing parts and when I ask about them, the students show me where those items are “hidden”. Smaller straws are inside larger straws and the string might be wadded up and inside something. And, we still take these towers apart and re-use them as much as possible!
This is why I love this challenge so much- it makes students think about every little part and they are so creative in applying the rules! Tennis Ball Towers for the win!
Click on any of the images to see the details about this resource. You might also enjoy these tower blog posts: