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Tower Of Straws: Reaching New Heights With Active Learning In Engineering Design For The First Year Curriculum

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Conference

2007 Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

FPD9 -- Teaching Methods & Technology

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count

20

Page Numbers

12.1497.1 - 12.1497.20

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/1854

Download Count

1795

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Paper Authors

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John K. Estell Ohio Northern University

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JOHN K. ESTELL is Chair of the Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science
Department, and Professor of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, at Ohio Northern University. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His areas of research include simplifying the outcomes assessment
process, user interface design, and the pedagogical aspects of writing computer games. Dr. Estell is a Senior Member of IEEE, and a member of ACM, ASEE, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and Upsilon Pi Epsilon.

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Beverly Jaeger Northeastern University

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RICHARD WHALEN, SUSAN FREEMAN, and BEVERLY JAEGER are members of Northeastern University’s Gateway Team, a selected group of faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. The focus of this team is to provide a consistent, comprehensive, and constructive educational experience in engineering that endorses the student-centered and professionally-oriented mission of Northeastern University. While they concentrate on developing first-year engineering courses and teach across all engineering disciplines, they also teach specialty courses in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at NU.

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Richard Whalen SUSAN FREEMAN, and BEVERLY JAEGER are members of

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Northeastern University’s Gateway Team, a selected group of faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. The focus of this team is to provide a consistent, comprehensive, and constructive educational experience in engineering that endorses the student-centered and professionally-oriented mission of Northeastern University. While they concentrate on developing first-year engineering courses and teach across all engineering disciplines, they also teach specialty courses in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at NU.

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Susan Freeman Northeastern University

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John-David Yoder Ohio Northern University

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JOHN-DAVID YODER is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at ONU. His Doctorate is from the University of Notre Dame. Research
interests include education, controls, robotics, and information processing. Prior to teaching, he
ran a small consulting and R&D company and served as proposal engineering supervisor for
GROB Systems, Inc.

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Abstract
NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Tower of Straws: Reaching New Heights with Active Learning in Engineering Design for the First-Year Curriculum

Abstract

Building a tower out of straws has been used as an activity for many years at all educational levels. In general terms, teams of students are provided with a fixed number of straws and fasteners (such as paper clips or straight pins) and are instructed to build a structure as tall as possible within a limited amount of time. Sometimes a constraint is added, usually that the tower must be able to bear a specified load or withstand other mechanical disturbances such as wind or vibration. Lesson plans for this activity are readily available on the Internet; the majority of them present the building of a tower of straws by a team of students as a methodology for developing cooperative learning skills. However, it is possible to modify this activity for use in first-year college engineering courses as an introduction to, or illustration of, the engineering design method. The scope of the problem is well-defined, allowing for the entire engineering design process to be accomplished within a short period of time. First, the problem is given to the class with appropriate constraints. Teams are formed to design and analyze possible solutions, which may include the development of drawings and/or prototypes. From the suggested solution alternatives, decision matrices are developed through classroom exercises for evaluating the success of the design against the set of original performance criteria determined by the students at the outset. Tasks are assigned amongst the team members, delegating roles for planning, design, and assembly of the structure. A testing protocol is developed and utilized following the building of the towers in class. Finally, reflection is used to help summarize the learning experiences in the areas of engineering design and teamwork, and how they can be applied in the future.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the methodologies successfully used at two institutions for implementing the Tower of Straws assignment and provides an assessment of its usefulness as an active learning exercise in introducing first-year engineering students to the engineering design process. The paper will describe two very different approaches to the same exercise, along with the assessment results from both Ohio Northern University (ONU) and Northeastern University (NU). The assessment tool maps responses to what the students perceive they learn about the design process steps and also assesses if the students learn engineering principles and teamwork the way the instructors intend for them. Suggestions for expanding on or modifying the activity for the purposes of engineering education and practical application will also be presented and all materials for implementing the Tower of Straws will be made available to educators in the appendices.

1. Background on the Tower of Straws Assignment

The Tower of Straws assignment has had a history of use in K-12 education. There are a variety of names offered to the exercise, as well as different sets of goals to be accomplished. Appendix A offers a sampling of 12 online resources related to this assignment. An analysis of data culled from these sites offers some insight as to the general characteristics of the typical Tower of Straws assignment. Obviously, all include straws as the primary construction material; however, the number of straws varies from a low of just 16 to a high of 200, with 50 being the most

Estell, J. K., & Jaeger, B., & Whalen, R., & Freeman, S., & Yoder, J. (2007, June), Tower Of Straws: Reaching New Heights With Active Learning In Engineering Design For The First Year Curriculum Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/1854

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015