Lasagne or Spaghetti? The Pasta Cantilever Challenge

Introducing engineering concepts into the high school physics classroom can help students grasp the relevance of scientific knowledge to the real world. I love to do this through project-based assignments in which students have to apply their knowledge through design-based activities. And what better way to keep students engaged and on their toes than to include a challenge for the best design!

Which cantilever will support the required weight at the maximum distance from the table?

An excellent resource for design-based teaching is NSTA’s Beyond the Egg Drop: Infusing Engineering into High School Physics. This is where I found the idea for my students to design and build cantilevers with pasta. All the activities in this book present students with an engineering design challenge while reinforcing physics concepts. The pasta cantilever challenge fits well with lessons on forces and equilibrium.

The challenge for this activity is for students to design and build a pasta cantilever that supports the weight at the greatest distance from the edge of the table. To incorporate the design engineering process, we do this activity over two class periods. During the first class, students build a prototype that they can test and evaluate to see what factors affect the cantilever’s ability to support the required mass at the greatest distance from the table. This allows them to see what other groups have done. Then, during the second class they are ready to build their final cantilever and see who wins the design challenge.

Students and teachers love this design challenge because it is fun, incorporates active hands-on learning, is easy to set up and allows students to compete against each other while learning. All you need for the pasta cantilever challenge is pasta, string, paper, tape and a 50 gram mass.

We’ve developed a resource for this activity that is now available in our TPT store. The lab activity includes goals and instructions, sample grading criteria, and a set of pre- and post-lab questions. We hope you and your students enjoy the Pasta Cantilever Challenge!


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