March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Simple, Introductory Activity Aligns with Common Core and Provides Common Experience

Posted: Monday, July 1st, 2013

by Lisa Hegdahl

Years ago, when I was a Club Live Advisor, I took a group of students to a leadership seminar. As an introductory activity, students were put into groups of four and asked to build a freestanding tower with only straws, tape, and 20 minutes.
Oh yes, and they had to complete the task without talking.   These days, I use the tower building activity in combination with the 8th Grade Common Core Standards, and the Common Core Standards for Science and Technical Subjects, to build a common experience that my students can refer back to when studying balanced and unbalanced forces.

Materials Needed Per Group of four students:

  • 25 Plastic straws
  • 1 Roll of tape (masking tape works well)
  • 1 Ruler

As with the original Club Live activity, students work in groups of four.  Each group receives their plastic straws (paper straws or spaghetti also work), a roll of tape, and 20 minutes to build their tower.  Students may use as much tape as they want, but individual pieces cannot exceed two inches. This detail prevents groups from taking the roll of tape and wrapping their entire tower.  Although the students weren’t allowed to talk when I was first introduced to this activity, since the Common Core Standards for Language Arts has a Speaking and Listening component I do encourage students to communicate with each other while building their towers (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.6).

Students begin the activity by individually writing plans for how they think the tower should be built (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.1).  Plans must include how each of the materials will be used, what each group member will be responsible for, and why they think their plan will be successful.  Each group member explains their plan to their group before the group chooses the one plan they will implement (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.3).

At the end of 20 minutes the tower heights are measured, and students individually write an analysis of the towers produced by the class (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.1e).  Included in the information is a proposed explanation of why some towers were successful and other towers were not.  Students discuss their conclusions with their group before each group summarizes their thoughts to the class (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.4).

The tower building activity is simple, inexpensive, and engaging.  It meets current California Science Content Standards for 8th Grade (http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/sciencestnd.pdf) and the Common Core Standards for Writing, Speaking & Listening, and the Common Core Standards for Science &Technical Subjects.  Providing students with a common experience at the beginning of a unit makes exploring the specifics of the unit less intimidating, and helps the students generate their own questions and hypothesizes about what will follow.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

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