Tallest Cup Tower (Student Instruction)

When you look at tall towers, do you ever wonder why they don’t fall over? What makes them so stable? This activity encourages students to explore gravity, distribution of weight, and the design of a structure to help it hold itself in place—all of which are key to civil and structural engineering.

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Overview

STEM careers

Grade level

Materials

  • Large paper or plastic cups of uniform size (12 oz or 16 oz are best)
    • The more cups you have, the higher you can go. But fewer cups may challenge you to think creatively about how to design your tower.
  • Alternative materials: empty soda cans, dixie cups, rolls of toilet paper, round plastic plant pots

Instructions

  1. Identify the Problem
    • The most critical step of any engineering challenge is to understand the problem you are trying to solve.
    • How can you make a cup tower as tall as possible without it falling over? Here are the specs:
      • The only materials you can use are the cups themselves.
      • The tower must stand on its own without any human assistance and:
      • You can build on your own – or with a partner. If you’re at home, team up with a sibling, a friend or a parent!
  2. Brainstorm Designs
    • Spend a few minutes trying out different arrangements of cups to get ideas for which design would work best.
  3. Build and Test
    • As you build, look for ways to make improvements along the way. How high can you go?
    • If your tower falls down completely, no worries. Engineers learn from what isn’t working all the time.
    • Have a limited number of cups? Try timing yourself to see how quickly you can build your tower.
  4. Evaluate and redesign
    • What worked and what didn’t? Think about any changes you would like to make using these questions:
      • What happens if the tower base is the same width as the rest of the tower?
      • What if the tower base is a different size and/or shape from other parts of the tower?
      • How can the cups best be arranged to help hold each other in place?
      • How can the cup edges be used to create the most stability?
  5. Make Changes and Try Again!
    • Try to build your tower even higher.
    • If you timed your first build, try to beat your time with a quicker build.
    • Or test your design with a different set of materials to see how it affects tower stability.
  6. Share Your Results with a teacher, parent/guardian, or DiscoverE!
    • You can email photos to DiscoverE at social@DiscoverE.org or post on Instagram/Twitter using the hashtag #DiscoverEChallenge