Christa McAuliffe Charter School’s Straw Tower Challenge Tests Students Engineering Ingenuity

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Editor’s Note: Press release & photo submitted to SOURCE media. In full transparency the charter school is an advertiser with SOURCE


FRAMINGHAM – The Christa McAuliffe Charter School launched the 2020 school year with a close eye on connection.

The year opened with in-person advisory meetings called “Crew” where scholars got to meet their Crew leaders and a small group of peers. While on the campus, scholars also picked up a learning bag filled with a variety of materials to support a hands-on approach to launching the school year. The science bag included a paper meter stick, 50 straws and a chipboard.

Out of context, these materials may at first appear random; however, when presented with the STEM challenge, McAuliffe scholars rose to the occasion and created some unique “straw towers” designed to support a gallon jug full of water.

The educational objective for this project was two-fold. The first was simply to launch a hands-on project that would engage scholars in a remote start to the year. It gave teachers and scholars time to get to know one another in a remote setting before diving deeply into the rigor of the school year. In
addition to connection, this project also allowed our scholars a taste of the wonderful world of STEM which stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. In this STEM project students explored two state engineering design standards:
* 6.MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution.
* 6.MS-ETS1-6(MA). Communicate a design solution to an intended user, including design features and limitations of the solution.

After the tower was built to specifications, scholars put their creation to the test. They placed an empty gallon jug on the chipboard that rested atop their straw tower, Then they filled the jug with water. If their tower held the weight of the full jug then they successfully completed the challenge or “won”.
Learning about the stability of triangles and efficiency of various joints in different places brought the principles of engineering to a relatable project. Scholars were encouraged to video their towers, both when they successfully held the jug of water and when they failed. One of the HOWLs that is readily celebrated at McAuliffe is Inquiry, which involves learning as much from our failure as we learn from our success.

6th grade scholar Geo F. said: “I can take what I learned about shapes and joints to design and build a tower.”

Success Video:

Failure Video:

When asked what they had learned participating in this challenge, 6th grader, Amogh S. said “I learned how triangles are very strong and supportive (much more than parallelograms). I also learned that butt joints are strong with compression, but not with tension (although, in the project, there wasn’t much tension going on). I used this information and added lots of triangles in my design and used butt joints so that it would stay strong, even when compressed.”

8th grade science teacher Dan Anderson reflected on the project with these words: “This stem challenge really allowed us to be a science community first where we all got to get to know each other and learn some pretty neat skills and facts along the way.”


The Christa McAuliffe Charter School is a diverse public charter school for scholars in grades 6 – 8. The school’s hands-on curriculum cultivates high levels of scholar engagement, responsibility for learning, and enduring character growth. Students are accepted into the school via a blind lottery. The public charter school is located in Framingham.


email: call or text at 508-315-7176

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