Building Towers

This was an exercise in strength of a team and strength of a tower!

Today we challenged our Grade 4s to work in teams to build a tower to hold up a tennis ball for at least 20 seconds.

Their materials were a mix of play doh, sticky notes, straws, a wooden peg, a tennis ball, paper clips, a cardboard tube, an old CD and some rubber bands.

To start with the children were challenged to organise their own teams of four with one member from each of the four classes and no more than two girls or boys. Well that was like putting the cat amongst the pigeons….. quite a number of our students found it unbelieveably challenging to put themselves forwards in a team, a team of children they had known in some capacity since prep but weren’t their best mates. Some got straight to it, others froze, a couple  hid, a few wandered aimlessly. We let it go for about ten minutes then helped the remaining third of the children get into groups.

Several children found the social side of this so confronting they couldn’t bring themselves to join their team initially, but in the end the fun won them over.

Having said that, the challenge was well underway in other areas of the room. The buzz gradually grew, children started to look around at what others were doing…when we heard the first echoes of “they copied us” we stopped the teams and had a talk. We looked at the examples of teamwork tower building that did have the same elements (thus “copied”) but all had adaptations. This was innovation occurring.


We mulled over the word innovation. Eventually one of the group defined it as taking bits of ideas and thinking creatively to add new ideas to them to make it better and fill a purpose. Pretty amazing in hindsight for Grade four students!

Tower building continued, laughter, cheers and volume generally increased, all were engaged and excited.

Children began to question.

“Does the tennis ball have to be balanced at the top of the tower?”

“Can we use the plastic sleeve and play doh packaging as well?”

Every time I circled the room towers grew and fell and changed and grew and fell and innovated.

So what did I learn?

The task was important as they had a goal that required teamwork, they had the tactile skills and many, many ideas. But most of all I learnt things about some of my students that I hadn’t been able to observe before. The quiet studious child who sometimes seems withdrawn became full of smiles and a leader in their group with innovative ideas. Then there was the children who are so confident in their own circles of friends who really needed support to step outside their comfort zone and work with others, but when they dared to let themselves do it they made new connections and gained a new connection and respect for others.

Where to next?

We are travelling the road less travelled for our community this term. Delving into the Nerdy Derby next. Following a path that will lead us through innovation and here’s hoping, moonshot thinking. It’s my intention to record our journey, both the successes and challenges, in the hope that you may find it thought provoking, challenging you to also try new things and reflect on the journey so we all grow as learners.

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