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Water Tower Challenge

Students compete to see who can build a water tower from minimal supplies, supporting 500 mL of water using only ten straws, spaghetti sticks and glue.

In Construction Technology class, our ongoing narrative is that we're travelling to another planet. After learning Google SketchUp basics, we began developing ideal living spaces for our future home. The futuristic space travel concept plays well with Classcraft and gives students a narrative that isn't too far removed from story lines they know.

To wrap up the semester, they are tasked with constructing an object based on their design. And so I chose to give them a water tower challenge. The reality is we have not spent enough time on engineering concepts for them to develop quality structures. So my emphasis is more on making sure their finished product resembles their design concept as much as possible. I don't want students modifying their design based on real world testing. Instead they are discovering that it is easy to draw an idea but much more difficult to understand how that structure functions under real world stresses.

To prepare for this challenge, we spent a couple days playing with West Point Bridge Design software. Unfortunately they have run out of funding and no longer offer the full game version. It's one thing to watch a digital vehicle fall into the river because the structure was not properly supported, but it's quite another to feel how flimsy a structure is.

I like the idea of a water tower because water will be a precious commodity on any off planet settlement. Also limiting their supplies simulates the limited cargo available in space travel. Of course, this project could easily be expanded to include lessons on water pressure, plumbing, hydraulics, geography, social issues and include elements of writing. Advanced design elements might also include transport and assembly issues in keeping with our space travel narrative.

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