Toothpick Tower Project

| Project Description | Objectives/Standards | Timeline | Materials | Assessment |

Project Description:

Link to QT Movie Overview:
Students should design and build the most efficient free standing structure (tower) to fit over an opening in a testing platform. The structure should be constructed entirely out of flat toothpicks and glue and must be able to support a test block at the top of the structure. Students should be given minimum height, base span (the minimum distance needed to fit over the opening in the test platform), and test block dimensions. The structure will be tested on its efficiency--the load supported compared to the tower's mass.


glueing tower
  • Students should begin construction by placing a piece of wax paper over their diagram and gluing toothpicks together until the side is completed. This process should be repeated until all of their sides are completed. (Note: It is helpful to keep a triple beam balance in the classroom so students can monitor the mass of the tower as it is being constructed.)
Upright the tower
  • The next step is to upright the tower. To accomplish this, students can stand the sides up and twist tie them together. Once the sides are twist tied together, they should be glued. When the glue is dry, remove the twist ties and test the tower.


The objective of this project is to expose students to concepts of equilibrium/stability, forces (tension and compression), center of gravity, and Newton's Third Law of Motion.


It is difficult to give an exact time limit on this project. The amount of time depends on how quickly students work and how much time is used in studying other structures before construction begins. An average time span for this project is 10 to 15 class days.


Construction Materials

Testing Materials:

The assessment portion of this project will be based on three items:

  1. Quality and originality of design-A small portion of the student's grade should be based on the overall quality of the finished tower. The quality of the original diagram should be a portion of this section. This will reward students who invest more time in planning, drawing, and building the project.

  2. Performance Score-Each student's tower will be tested according to an efficiency. The efficiency is a comparison of the load held to the mass of the tower. Use the following formula to calculate the efficiency:
    (Note: This is a unitless measurement) The scale used to assess the students performance should reflect the teachers individual expectations. The following is an example of a possible scale:
    D 0-150
    C 151-300
    B 301-450
    A >450

    A spreadsheet is useful to calculate the efficiency of each tower. [Sample Excel Spreadsheet]

  3. The paper-Each student's paper should be graded based on the quality of their explanation of his/her tower. Specific questions about science behind the structure should be included in the paper. (Sample paper template.)

Horizontal Rule

| Variations/Extensions | Helpful Hints | Projects |