Alternative WATERLESS Activity for U1L1



Paper Tower Challenge

Waterless Activity Groups of 2-4
1 sheet of copy paper per group & no other tools Student Directions: Using only the sheet of paper create a structure to support a textbook/dictionary 1 inch above the surface for at least 5 seconds. If multiple groups accomplish this goal - whose structure will support the most books? Teacher Notes: no tape no scissors or glue. Students can manipulate their paper in any manner they choose. Activity credit to Pinterest. Successfully executed with 6th graders.


Do you have suggestions or pics you can offer to teachers to help us see successful ideas that work if our students are really stumped?


Here is my compilation of different mini challenges that can fit into this lesson as well. If you want other ideas, search “Brown Bag Engineering” or “Dollar store Engineering”


Water would be difficult in my classroom so I really like this activity. I revised the Activity sheet to go along with the paper structures and attached for anyone to use if you click on the following link.Paper Structures activity guide


Howdy all - sorry for my delayed response… email filters caught everything.

Here are some links to help you visualize the paper tower strength STEM activity.
Many of these let students use tape or scissors or such.
When I did this in my class of 6th graders it was intended as a teambuilding activitiy during our 25 minute home room time so I didn’t want to pull out a large amount of supplies.

The strongest structures were cylinders just as you see in these links however my students didn’t tape them closed but rather created paper spirals that curled because of wrapping around their fingers or a table leg and they held their shape.

This link previews with the exact directions I used but is blocked by my district filters so I can’t verify:

continued in next post


Sorry it will only let me put 2 links per post…

Post 2/3


Post 3/3 due to link attachment restriction


I had my students create a tower with a suspended 3 oz. cup that needed to be at least 3 inches above the bottom of the tower. We tested the tower’s strength with pennies. I modified the worksheets from the boat activity to fit the tower activity. My students were given 20 non-bendable straws, 36" of masking tape, 36" of string, and a 3 oz. cup with holes punched in opposite sides. They could use scissors and rulers. No supplies were replenished. They loved the activity, although a few said they had done something like this previously.

Like others mentioned, I did debate working through the Problem Design Process first, however I used it as a discussion to walk my students through each step and we identified each part of the building tower lesson.


Paper Structure Challenge: I revised this lesson to a have kids build a Paper Structure to hold textbooks as high as possible off the desk. This was a good non-water alternative and I revised the student worksheet that worked well. I had a stack of textbooks in my classroom but when I do this again I will remember that I need many more! The kids were amazing in their building efforts and you need lots of textbooks for multiple groups to test their structures at the same time…!

Here is the Paper Structure Challenge - enjoy!


I did have pairs use this simulation to discuss iterations and the problem solving process

They also have a ‘fire’ interactive that allows frequent iterations.

the faster you fail, the faster you improve.


I teach a course for seventh and eighth graders who rotate through new courses each grading term. Since I had already done the aluminum boats activity with my first term group and some of them had already done a similar activity with a previous teacher in a past class, I wanted to try something different with my other classes for the next rotation. I still wanted the students to build something, so in the replacement activity, it was a waterless challenge with the goal of building a structure at least 2.5" tall, made of gum drops and toothpicks, and that could hold a textbook for at least 10 seconds. Students were given no more than 20 gum drops and 50 toothpicks. The students were really creative in their designs, and one team’s first attempt held the book for at least 32 seconds before collapsing. They had never done the project before and they loved the challenge.

Build a Structure Student Example

I also edited the Aluminum Boats Activity Guide to follow the new task called Building a Structure.

Building a Structure

Some of the other waterless challenges posted here also look interesting. Thanks for sharing! I look forward to trying some of them out.


Thank you for sharing this! It’s always nice to be able to add some ideas to your folders!



These are great! I have used paper airplanes in the past with great success, having them all throw from one side of the room, and then walk to their paper airplane and explain the process and the student can see how far it went and then multiple iterations of the same and they soon find successful planes… then I intro them to this website.



I plan to use paper airplanes at some point as well. I look forward to seeing what the students come up with! Thanks for the included link as well.


thank you! Using this!


Thanks for your directions along with pictures; it really helped!

gsreath from Seattle