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Support Your Local Science Books:
An Open-ended, Problem-solving Activity

Developed by Chuck Downing after being inspired by Debbie Bereki of Fillmore High School

How do you support two (2) or more big, thick science books (like [insert book name]) 2 cm off the top of your table?

Materials your group can have access to (but do not necessarily have to use):
    8.5 x 11" paper (1 sheet)
    Scotch tape (4" strip)
    Scissors (1 pair)
    15 cm ruler (1)
    Pencil or pen (1)


  1. Form groups as instructed by your teacher.

  2. Take one piece of smooth-edged notebook paper (SENBP). Title this paper "grade sheet" and write down all your group member's names on it.

  3. You can try as many times as you like, but each attempt using new paper and tape must be recorded by your teacher on your "grade sheet."

  4. The books must be 2 cm off the table top for long enough to be measured by the teacher.

  5. 2 cm is defined as 1.8-2.2 cm.

  6. The books must be level. All four corners must be within the height limitation.

  7. Successful support of 2 books with an "original plan" qualifies for 100% credit.

  8. Successful support of 2 books with a plan "borrowed" from another group qualifies for 90% credit.

  9. Additional credit can be earned for additional books supported by an "original" plan. (5% per book up to 150% maximum)

Questions: Answer only those questions assigned to you by your teacher.

  1. What was the maximum number of books supported by a group in your class?

  2. How many books did your design support?

  3. Compare your design to the "best in the class."
    1. How were the two designs similar?
    2. Why do you think that the "best in the class" design was the best?

* * * * * * * * * *

Notes to Teachers:

The "grade sheet" is a 1/2 sheet of used paper with the two students who worked together's names on it.

I give out one piece of paper to each team at the beginning of the exercise.

I dispense the tape.

I mark "Attempt #" with some annotation each time a group comes to me for more paper or tape. This is how I know if they end up "borrowing" another idea for supporting the books.

I use scratch paper for this activity.

"Original" means that the group thought it up on their own, it does not mean unique.

After a group solves this problem, other groups will "borrow" their idea, but you will be able to tell when that happens.

A creative group can support up to 30 Modern Biology ( 1977) with these materials. Actually more could be supported, but the stack becomes unmanageable after 30 books, unless the bindings are in better shape than ours are.

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