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Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

Tennis Ball Towers – A Challenge with a Twist

Holding a tennis ball aloft and the tricky use of materials makes this an intriguing STEM activity!

Tennis Ball Towers? Yes, you read that right! They are pretty unbelievable! Highly engaging and so fun!

This one requires students to plan for using every material in some form. And, they must keep that tennis ball off the tabletop.

STEM Challenges for Elementary Students- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.

What makes the Tennis Ball Tower so intriguing?

Well, first let’s think about the word intriguing. It means something that is fascinating and interesting.

So, tennis ball towers are intriguing 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.

The Height of the Tennis Ball Tower

STEM- Build a tower holding a tennis ball aloft- detailed teacher's guide included.

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 tower using a minimum of materials! It can be done!

Holding the Tennis Ball Aloft

STEM Project- Build a tower holding a tennis ball aloft- detailed teacher's guide included.
STEM Activity- Build a tower holding a tennis ball aloft- detailed teacher's guide included.

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

STEM- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.
STEM Challenge- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.

Do your students know about “tie-downs”? This is one of those things my students 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 to help it stay in position.

The string is a great addition to this tower challenge. Notice the tie-downs in the photos above! So great!

More Intrigue with the Tennis Ball Tower

STEM Activity- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.

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 Most Interesting Rule of the STEM Project

STEM Project- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.

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.

That Tennis Ball being aloft is only one of the ways this STEM Challenge is interesting. Your students will love it!

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STEM Activities for Elementary Students- The Tennis Ball Tower features a tricky use of materials and holding a tennis ball aloft.
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