For this project, students are given 18 sticks of spaghetti and two feet of Scotch tape and are asked to build the longest possible cantilever.
Hand out the rules and the materials at the beginning of the class period, and give students 30 minutes to complete their cantilevers. When the time is up, measure all cantilevers. The base of the structure should be taped within a six inch horizontal area, and the end must not touching the floor. Students may not be touching the cantilever at the time of measurement. The length is measured from the point on the base nearest to the overhanging end of the cantilever, and is rounded to the nearest inch. Make sure all desks are the same height, as this can effect the students' designs.
Encourage students to think creatively and use time wisely. For this activity, they should think directly with the materials and not make drawings. This is a fairly short projects, and may be suitable for redesign within the same class period. Calculate the average length on each of the trials, and see how the class improves. Try to find a material limit. Discuss what separates a good cantilever from a bad one.
This activity requires little instructor time. Make sure to have enough spaghetti and tape. It is useful to have the spaghetti separated and the tape cut ahead of time, although you can cut tape for each student or group if the class is small. If the class is large, consider the logistics of getting materials to all students or groups. Be sure to have a clock, timer, or stopwatch to ensure that students do not go over the allowed time; enough tape measures for all course staff; and a small prize for the winning cantilever. Record the lengths on a chalkboard or butcher paper, or, if the class is big, have the students fill out a card with their names in advance, and record the length and collect the card when the cantilever is measured. Like most in-class activities, grades based on participation only are recommended.
This project is appropriate for the following variations (most are described in the section how to make design projects more meaningful):
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