Engineering Challenge: Newspaper Structures

A girl kneels in the newspaper structure she builtFor this Engineering Challenge we built structures that were large enough to fit inside using nothing but newspaper and masking tape. The structures had to be free standing, but did not need to have walls, floors, or a roof.

Before the program started, we talked a

little bit about  the shapes that make for a stable structure. Some of the children had participated in a previous building workshop and remembered that triangles are excellent

 weight bearing shapes. We also talked about different ways to use the newspaper, including folding, rolling, various rolling techniques, and other ways to build with newspaper. I let the children know that “fit inside” could mean a lot of different things: standing, sitting, lying down or anything in between. Each position would bring its own set of challenges.

There was a lot of parent-child interaction, and a lot more child-child grouping for this project than for some of our previous Engineering Challenges, which made for a loud and boisterous time, but also created some great conversations about material properties, physics, engineering, and the building process.

A family fits inside their newspaper structureFor our previous challenges I had set up multiple levels of challenge so that even if someone was successful immediately, they could still remain engaged in the process. For this program, however, the second levels of challenge were essentially unneeded. The time it took to roll the newspapers, plus the inherent difficulty of the challenge and the general need for most of the participants to try several ideas meant that almost everyone required the entire hour to simply complete their project. I suspect some of our younger participants would have needed a lot more time if they had not been partnered with an older friend or had help from a parent. We had one family of young children that was kept busy the entire time building as a team with their parents so that the entire family could fit inside their structure! The little kids worked to roll the newspaper, while the older children and parents designed the structure and figure out the best way to implement their design.

A girl lies in the newspaper structure she built

The level of engagement in the room was extremely high. They were all determined to make their structure the best possible, despite the difficulty of the challenge. I was a little worried that the frustration level would be high, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how willing the students were to recognize that something wasn’t working, analyze why, and then try again with a modified strategy.

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