Engineering in the Elementary Classroom


Back to Elementary School 

Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary school? What did you learn? What were some projects you will never forget? I fondly recall building model rockets and launching them in the field by our school. I also remember dying rice with food coloring and making a mosaic. And then there was the time that a mobile planetarium visited the school and we all spent unforgettable time “under the stars.”

One of our engineer’s, Trevor DiMarco, recently had the pleasure of reliving his elementary school days when he volunteered to present an engineering lesson to 5th graders in a local elementary school.

Teachers Robert DeRose and Sandy Pray co-teach a classroom full of 5th graders in the Webster School District and called upon Trevor to share his expertise during a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) unit. The “Spaghetti Structure Challenge” (also known as the “Marshmallow Challenge”), required students to build a free standing structure using only:

  • Spaghetti
  • 1 Meter of String
  • 1 Meter of Tape
  • 1 Marshmallow – which needs to be on top of the structure

The bottom line?
To see which group of students could build the tallest standing structure using problem solving strategies, critical thinking, and their knowledge of structural design engineering concepts! Plus, the structures were going to be tested for stability by an “earthquake” simulation!

Day 1:

The classroom teachers introduced the students to the task and reminded them to use cooperation, communication and creativity within their groups throughout the 25 minutes allotted for structure building. After the structures were completed, they were placed on a table, one by one. Structure height was measured and durability was tested by shaking the table to see whether it could withstand the “earthquake.”

Day 2:

Trevor visited the 5th grade classroom and captivated the students with his interactive 45-minute lesson on engineering and structural design. He demonstrated the stability of a triangle and using
local examples that the students were familiar with, he explained why the triangle is used to construct towers, buildings, bridges, and even amusement park rides!

Next, Trevor asked the students to use paper strips to build a square and a triangle, followed by comparing and contrasting the durability of each shape. He then introduced the engineering term, “cross member,” and allowed students to explore whether a cross member improved the stability of the squares and triangles.

Lastly, Trevor and the students discussed and took notes on how their new knowledge could help with the Spaghetti Structure Challenge.

Day 3

Students further researched structure design and learned more about equilateral, scalene, and right triangles.

Day 4

Challenge day arrived and students excitedly built and tested their new structures!

Trevor reports that he had a great experience and looks forward to volunteering his time again in the future!

Share your Spaghetti Structure Challenge pictures with us on Twitter @LTronCorp!