Throwing Down the Gauntlet

What would happen if you challenged a group of students with a stack of cardboard and this statement: “Here’s the construction material. Your goal is to build a piece of furniture that will withstand a specified mass for a specified time. However, the only thing you can use for adhesive is hot glue.”

Once the initial shock wore off I bet you that those students would put their heads together, formulate a game plan, come up with a design, and momentum for the assigned project would thrust them forward. At least that’s what has happened each time that I’ve thrown down the cardboard furniture gauntlet to the students in my physics class. Over the years, student creativity has sparked the production of many functional pieces of furniture including: stand alone chairs, a sofa & coffee table, a pull out couch, a monster chair, and a bunk bed. And yes, each piece has successfully withstood the specified mass/time component.

This year’s group of physics students took the cardboard furniture challenge to the next level when one student suggested something out of the norm – an A-Frame Lawn Swing. I was somewhat perplexed and cautiously reserved as he discussed his idea. But then he moved to the board, grabbed a marker, and drew a diagram of his vision. As he walked his group through the design concept I became sold on the design idea. Eventually he won over the other members of his team and the collective decision was made to construct an a-frame lawn swing.

After a few days the project was in full production mode, and within a week the guys had conquered the seat portion.

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Then they began tackling the leg component.  One by one the support legs took shape, but this step took slightly longer to wrap up because the students needed to continue bookwork, plus school was cancelled for a few days due to a snowstorm.


All four legs were finally completed by Friday, March 13, and then the boys turned their focus to the swinging mechanism. The only time I assisted with any portion of this project was during these final days when I was asked to drill holes in the cardboard for the swinging mechanism or when I was needed to help steady a part for testing purposes.

By the end of the afternoon on Monday, March 16, the final holes were drilled and the guys had fastened the cardboard ropes onto the swing. Tuesday rolled around and they put the finishing cosmetic touches on their piece of furniture. After school they set up the swing and gave it a test run.

No one breathed when the first student gingerly set in the chair. Then the student started swinging.

It worked! Somewhere amidst cheers and applause we all exhaled in relief.

Each team member took turns sitting in the swing and swinging. Success was written all over each person’s face – a look that was priceless.


Last night at our school’s annual science fair, Doug, Jared, and Nate demonstrated their lawn swing. To date, the mass capacity for the swing is 188.24 kilograms, which translates to 415 pounds. Next week they plan to conduct further testing to determine the maximum mass capacity that the swing can withstand.

I am so proud of these senior guys. Their diligence paid off, and their lawn swing is amazing!

In case you were wondering, they used pieces of cardboard from 12 refrigerator boxes, almost 200 hot glue sticks, and the project took them about a month to complete.

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