Design Challenge: Creating a Cup Tower

What You Need:

  • Paper cups
  • Ruler, tape measure, or yardstick
  • Pen and paper for taking notes

What You Do:

  1. First, fully explain the prompt of this challenge to your child. Explain that their task is to create a cup tower and emphasize the purpose of the tower: to be as tall as possible. Tell your child that in order to achieve this, they will need to make at least a couple designs and compare their heights.
  2. After your child understands the prompt, ask them to begin brainstorming different ways they can create their tower. Have them write or draw their ideas on a piece of paper (or you can draw their ideas while they explain them to you).
  3. After your child has come up with a few design ideas, ask them to pick one that will work best. Be sure to ask them why they think this design is best and reiterate the purpose of the tower (height).
    • This is an important step of the design thinking process because it teaches your child to prioritize the purpose of their prototype (design) over their personal preferences. This will also prevent your child from getting too emotionally invested in one design.
  4. Once your child has identified the prototype they think will be the tallest, give them the paper cups and allow them to build. We suggest allowing your child to work independently through any challenges, but be sure to supervise and help out wherever you see fit.
  5. After your child has finished building, it's time to test their prototype. Measure the tower's height and have your child record the height on a piece of paper.
  6. Since the purpose of this challenge is to build the tallest tower possible, your child will need to create at least one more prototype and compare its height with the first tower. Ask your child some of the following questions so that they can reflect on their first design:
    1. What worked well in building this tower?
    2. What didn't work well?
    3. What could you change about this tower to make it taller?
  7. After you and your child have come up with some modifications, explain to your child that they can now use their ideas to make a new, taller tower.
  8. Once again, ask your child to brainstorm different designs that will hopefully create a taller tower than their first one. Then, ask them to pick the one they think will be best.
  9. Next, allow your child to build their design. Once again, allow them to work independently as much as possible.
  10. After your child has finished building, it's time to test their new prototype. Again, measure and record the height of their tower and compare it to the first one.
    1. If your child's second tower is taller, ask them some of the following questions: What worked well in your second design? What didn't work well? What specific adjustment to your first design made the second tower taller? What could you change about the second design to make it even taller?
    2. If your child's second tower is shorter than their first, ask them some of the following questions: What worked well in your second design? What didn't work well? Why do you think your second tower was shorter than the first? What could you change about this design to make it taller?
  11. You and your child can continue repeating this process and attempting to create a taller tower for as long as you'd like. Be sure to cover each step of the design thinking process since repetition will reinforce these core ideas!

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