Middle School STEAM: Paper Chair Challenge

I first came across the idea of paper furniture well over 10 years ago.  It was during my first year of teaching, and my school was visited by a team that specialized in bringing architecture into schools.  They taught a lesson using similar principles to the ones used in the lessons described below.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the the organization that introduced me to the idea of paper furniture, so I’m unable to properly credit them.

There are an almost infinite variety of ways to make paper furniture – nearly every time I teach a paper furniture lesson, I am impressed by my students’ creativity.

Part One of the Paper Chair Challenge:
Gathering Data

Getting Started
• Do Now: Chairs don’t all look the same. They are made with a wide variety of materials and they have many different shapes. Even though they can be very different from each other, we can usually tell when something is a chair. What characteristics does a chair need in order to be a chair?
• Discuss the Do Now. What makes a chair a chair?
• Introduce the Paper Chair Challenge- we will gather data about how paper can be made into a strong structure and then use what we learned to create a structure that is at least 8 inches tall and is capable of holding your weight without collapsing, using only paper and tape.
• Randomly divide the class into pairs.

Collecting Data
• Explain that we will be collecting data about how the shape, height, and width of columns influences their strength.
• Show students how to use the column templates to make the different types of column.
• Show students how to test the column’s ability to bear weight. (Use identical books or deli containers filled with equal amounts of sand as weights.)
• Remind students about the importance of accurate data collection. Either give students data collection sheet or give them time to create their own data table (depending on how advanced the class is.
• Give teams time to collect their data.

Reflecting
• Pool data from all of the groups. Have a class discussion – how could we effectively analyze our data? When the class comes to a conclusion (most likely creating a bar graph of either the mean or median amount of weight each column type held) give students time to carry out their data analysis.
• Discuss the results. How will you and your partner use what you learned when you’re designing your chair?

Homework
• Make labeled diagrams of 3 possible chair designs which attempt to meet the design requirements (i.e., at least 8 inches tall, capable of holding your weight, constructed exclusively with paper and tape).

Materials
Column templates, tape, scissors, graph paper, weights (identical books or deli containers filled with sand), data collection handout (optional)

Part Two of the Paper Chair Challenge:
Building a Basic Chair

Getting Started
• Do Now: Swap your homework with another student. Study the designs your partner gives you and prepare to explain one of the designs to the class.
• Check homework: randomly select students to present a design created by the student they swapped homework with. Discuss design points and ways to improve the information-carrying characteristics of diagrams (if necessary).
• Watch a short video about designing paper tables http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/paper-table-challenge/ and discuss the process the presenters went through as they worked on their designs.
• Divide into the same groups as we used for part one.

Building a Basic Chair
• Teams agree on a design that they both want to build. It may be a design that one of the students designed for homework or it may be an entirely new design. In either case, they need to have a labeled diagram showing their plans.
• After students are able to show a labeled diagram showing their plan, they can get their materials – 40 sheets of computer paper and a roll of paper making tape. (Scissors and rulers are freely available.)
• Teams build and test their designs. They may modify their designs during the building process.

Testing and Reflecting
• Each team presents their chair by showing it to the class, explaining the reasoning behind their design, and then having one team member attempt to sit on it.
• Class discussion of the design elements found in the chairs. What design elements were very successful? Which design elements were less successful?
• Individual written response: If you were going to build another paper chair, how would it be different from and similar to the first chair you built?

Homework
• Watch the half hour “Cardboard Furniture” episode of Design Squad http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/cardboard-furniture/
• Write a response comparing and contrasting the experience of the teams on Design Squad with your paper chair design experience.

Materials
Computer paper, paper masking tape, scissors, rulers, video equipment

Part Three of the Paper Chair Challenge:
Building a Better Chair

Getting Started
• Do Now: Show images of cardboard furniture. Write two advantages and two disadvantages of cardboard furniture compared to traditional furniture.
• Check homework: Turn in your homework.
• Brief class discussion – what did you learn from watching the episode of Design Squad?

Building a Better Chair
• Introduce the next challenge – build a better chair. The materials will include unlimited computer paper, colored construction paper, paper masking tape, clear tape, and up to 5 pieces of particle board. What makes this chair “better” is self-defined by the students. Discuss as a class what “better” could mean. Tell students that they will have 3 hours of class time, but they may do additional work at home if they wish.
• The expectation is that this will be a solo project, but students may request a partner if they wish.
• At the end of the building project, students will present their chairs to the class and will have to demonstrate the quality of their chair.

Reflecting
• Allow each student (or group) to show off their chairs and demonstrate how well they hold the weight of a person.
• Conduct a class discussion – What is good about these chairs? What could have been better? How did the materials limit you? How did they inspire you?

Homework
• Do an internet search for “art chair” and look at the images. With that for inspiration, design your own art chair. Create a drawing or model that shows your design. Be thoughtful about the materials you select – what is your fantasy chair made out of? Why have you selected these materials?

Materials
Computer paper, particle board, colored construction paper, paper masking tape, clear tape, video equipment, scissors, rulers

Bibliography
DESIGN SQUAD NATION . Video | PBS KIDS GO! Perf. Judy Lee and Adam Vollmer. DESIGN SQUAD NATION . Video | PBS KIDS GO! N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2015.

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