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Skeletons from Scratch

Sue LeBeau's fifth grade class was curious about designs and shapes, and which ones held the most weight. To explore these ideas the class designed "skeletons" made from ordinary pipe cleaners.

The Idea: Design and build a skeleton made of 24 pipe cleaners like this that can hold a weight of at least one half kilogram (about 1.1 pounds) at least ten centimeters (almost 4 inches) off the ground.

Materials: Twenty-four pipe cleaners and a half kilogram weight.

Procedure: First, try to predict which skeletal shape will work the best. Should it be straight, curved, or pointy? Should it be bigger on the top or the bottom? Write down your hypothesis. Second, build your pipe cleaner skeleton. Third, test it by placing your half kilogram weight on it. Fourth, observe what happens and write down everything you observe. Finally, ask yourself if the design could be improved. Think of ways to improve it, and go back to step one.

Discussion Topic: Would this same design work if it had to hold up a 5 kilogram weight? Would your design still be the best if you were using a stronger material such as coat hangers? How about weaker materials?

Let us know what happened. Send us e-mail describing your homemade skeleton to Dragonfly@MUOhio.Edu Or, you could send us a letter. Better yet, when you are all done put your best homemade skeleton in a box and mail it to:

Project Dragonfly
Miami University
Oxford, OH USA 45056

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