Toothpick Structure


Unit Name: Construction/Sculpture

Course Title: Technology

Instructor: Technology Educator: Rob Birchfield, and Art Educator: James Allred Kennedy Learning Center

Foundation for Arts Integration: The work of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel along with aesthetically pleasing towers located around the world.

Disciplines Addressed: Technology and Visual Art

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

o Create an understandable and applicable connection between Art & Technology.
o Improve awareness of Technology and its relationship to Art.
o Collaborate within a group setting and study the function of Technology and Art
o Create a toothpick structure

Curriculum Connections

Examples of North Carolina Standard Course of Study Visual Art Objectives

Competency Goal 1: The learner will develop critical and creative thinking skills and perceptual awareness necessary for understanding and producing art. Objectives: 1.01, 1.02, 1.03, 1.04.

Competency Goal 2:
The learner will develop skills necessary for understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes. (National Standard 1). Objectives: 2.01, 2.02, 2.03, 2.04, 2.05.

Competency Goal 3:
The learner will organize the components of a work into a cohesive whole through knowledge of organizational principles of design and art elements. (National Standard 2). Objectives: 3.01, 3.02, 3.03, 3.04, 3.05.

Competency Goal 4: The learner will choose and evaluate a range of subject matter and ideas to communicate intended meaning in artworks. (National Standard 3). Objectives: 4.04, 4.05.

Competency Goal 6: The learner will reflect upon and assess the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others. (National Standard 5). Objectives: 6.01, 6.04, 6.05.

Competency Goal 7: The learner will perceive connections between visual arts and other disciplines. (National Standard 6). Objective: 7.01, 7.04.

Examples of North Carolina Standard Course of Study Exploring Technology Systems Objectives

Competency Goal 1: The learner will develop an understanding of the attributes of engineering design. (Standard 9) Objectives: 4.00

Competency Goal 2: The learner will develop the roll of trouble shooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in design and problem solving. (Standard 10) Objectives: 4.01, 4.02

21st Century and/or National Art Skills
Communication & Collaboration
Creativity & Imagination
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Making Connections
Initiative & Self Direction
Learning & Responsibility
Social & Cross Cultural

Teacher Planning

Time Required for Lesson: 10 (50 minute) classes

Overview: Student will design, draw and build an aesthetically pleasing Toothpick Tower. The tower will be built entirely out of flat colored toothpicks and clear glue. The tower will be to specific specifications and tested for efficiency.


o Colored Toothpicks
o Glue
o Grid Paper
o Wax paper
o Tape (to hold wax Paper in place)
o Scissors (to cut toothpicks)

Technologies Used:

Key Terms
Tower, Trusses, Tension, Compression, Span, Efficiency, Three-Dimensional, Sculpture, Form, Color, Rhythm, Balance, line

Essential Questions
What design features are needed for a sturdy structure?

What geometric shapes are used in tower construction?

What is the difference between tension and compression?

How can we use the Elements and Principles of Design to create an aesthetically pleasing sculpture?


(Day 1-2): The teacher will introduce towers and the work of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel to the class. After a brief discussion the teacher will have students research the history of towers and the different types. This may be done with handouts from the teacher, books or the internet. The teacher will have the students research different materials used in the construction of towers and how geometric shapes play an important part in a sound structure.

(Days 3-8): The teacher will introduce the Toothpick Tower activity. Explain that the goal is efficiency, not just strength, and that the tower must be aesthetically pleasing. The tower must be strong but also light. This is why proper design is important. The teacher will explain the tower specifications to the students. The tower must be at least 12 inches tall and must span a 3 inch gap. It must also allow for test block (4” x 4”) to sit on top of the structure. Also, the tower must show that it is art by using the elements and principles of design such as color, rhythm, balance, line, and form. Then the teacher will explain the testing procedure to the students. The students’ tower will be weighed and then placed over the 3 inch span. (Two tables pushed together). The wood test block is placed on top of the structure with an eyebolt passing through it. A chain connects the eyebolt to a bucket. Sand is then poured into the bucket until the tower fails. The bucket is then weighed. Include the wood block and chain as part of your weight. The teacher will then divide students into teams of two. Students will decide on a design from their research. Students will then make a sketch of their idea on notebook paper. Once the teacher has approved the design, the student will draw a full scale drawing on grid paper showing the structure they have chosen to build. The teacher will distribute materials to the students and then demonstrate examples of possible building techniques. The student will construct their wall sections on wax paper; they will combine these sections to create their own tower. Make sure that the teacher doesn’t give too much direction, as this may skew the creative process. The Students will begin construction of their own Toothpick Tower. The teacher will monitor student progress and give assistance as needed.

(Day 9): Test Day! Have students draw straws (toothpicks) to determine order of testing. Have students make predictions on how much weight their tower will hold. Record results on board so students can see how they do compare to classmates. Then, using the formula E = LOAD (GRAMS) x MASS OF TOWER (GRAMS), figure the efficiency of each tower. Reiterate that just because it held more weight, doesn’t mean it is the best tower. Each tower will also be graded on the aesthetic appeal. The students and teacher will all vote on to determine the most aesthetically pleasing tower.

(Day 10): Upon completion of the testing, have the students complete a short essay (couple of paragraphs) explaining what they have learned. The paragraph should include: Are they happy with the design they chose? Was it the best design? How did they use the elements and principles of design to create their piece? How could they make it better? How does math play a role in this activity? Assessment of this activity is up to the individual teacher.


Download PDF Version of Art Tech Rubric

Download PDF Version of Toothpick Structure Lesson Plan




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