An engineer is someone who creates something that solves a problem.  They come up with solutions.

How does an engineer “think”?

  • Ask – they ask “What is the problem and what needs to be done to fix the problem?”
  • Imagine – they imagine how to fix the problem.
  • Create – they build whatever they imagine to fix the problem.
  • Improve – if they try something and it doesn’t work, they try again.

In this activity, you are going to be an engineer and your assignment is to build a structure out of gumdrops and toothpicks and it must be able to hold a textbook for more than 10 seconds.  This is a hard challenge and you may get frustrated, but you will learn that failure and frustration are common steps to creativity and success.  You will also learn persistence, which is trying again and again even when something is hard. Sometimes when engineers are trying to solve a problem, they often fail and feel frustrated.  But they don’t give up. They persist until they get it right. “Building a Foundation” activity comes from

Building a Foundation Activity


  • 11 gumdrops

  • 25 toothpicks

  • 3 ounce paper or plastic cup

  • 1 book the size of a textbook


Let’s apply the thought process of an engineer for “Building a Foundation.”

  • Ask – “What needs to be done?”

    You have to figure out how to build a tower using no more than 11 gumdrops and 25 toothpicks that will stand as tall or taller than a 3 oz. paper/plastic cup and it has to be strong enough to hold a textbook for 10 seconds.

  • Imagine – “How will you build your structure?

    What will your structure look like?  Will it look like a house, a dome, or a teepee, etc.?

  • Create – Build your gumdrop structure

    Before you begin building your structure, think ahead and plan out your method of building. What shapes will you use?

  • Test and improve

    Test your structure to see if it will hold a textbook for 10 seconds. If it does, congratulations!!  If not, try rebuilding it again. Remember the word persistence (try again and again, even when something is very hard).


Junk Drawer Engineering:  25 Construction Challenges That Don’t Cost A Thing by Bobby Mercer

The projects in Junk Drawer Engineering demonstrate that you don’t need high-tech equipment to make learning fun-just what you can find in your recycling bin and around the house. Educators and parents will find this title a handy resource to teach children problem-solving skills and applied physics, all while having a lot of fun.

Cool Engineering Projects: fun & creative workshop activities by Rebecca Felix

Design, arrange, construct, and experiment with Cool Engineering Projects! Kids can learn how to build a colorful working catapult, assemble a simple-machine maze, and more! Each workshop project includes easy-to-read, step-by-step instructions paired with photographs. Budding craftspeople and engineers will love learning how to use the tools of the trade to make one-of-a-kind creations. Aligned to Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards. Checkerboard Library is an imprint of Abdo Publishing, a division of ABDO.

How Engineers Find Solutions by Robin Johnson 

Engineers know that there is always more than one possible solution to a problem! This interesting title uses accessible text and relatable examples to explain how engineers test and compare different solutions to determine which solution is best.

Engineering: Cool Women who Design by Vicki V. May

What types of robots will the future bring? How do biomedical devices help patients? Have you ever wondered how your phone works? In Engineering: Cool Women Who Design, readers ages 9 to 12 meet three women who are working hard in the engineering field.

Cardboard box Engineering by Jonathan Adolph

A working kaleidoscope, a marble runway, a robotic hand, a flying rubber-band airplane, and a flapping prehistoric bird are just some of the ingenious projects that can be constructed from cardboard boxes, sheets, and tubes – and that are sure to excite and engage kids who love to build, tinker, and invent.