STEM Paper Tube Log Cabin

Elementary STEM Idea: Paper Tube Log Cabin

Elementary STEM Idea: Paper Tube Log  Cabin by Wiggling Scholars

Before an increase in STEM education, Maker Spaces, and Learning Labs, I was doing my own version of elementary STEM activities.

My favorite? Paper tube log cabin!

It was large enough the play-kitchen went inside. (**Tooting my own horn here**)

So how do you make a Paper Tube Log Cabin with your Wiggling Scholars?

STEM Step 1: Collect Paper Roll Tubes

1) Collect Tubes

Ask parents for any and all paper tubes. I asked for paper towel, toilet paper, wrapping paper, and poster mailing sizes. I asked around the Thanksgiving because I knew families would be most likely to come across those during the shopping and shipping holiday season. 

STEM Step 2: Create the Frame

2) Create the Frame

Begin by assembling the frame of the log cabin. I was fortunate and had some really sturdy tubes donated. If you aren’t as lucky, consider having students help you make wrapping paper tubes stronger by wrapping them in newspaper and tape to create stronger outer layers and stuffing them with newspaper to add some weight. To assemble the frame, use a hot glue gun. I added the glue and the students would hold it in place. I explained to them that hot glue is ~hot~ and I didn’t have any problems with students getting hurt. Remember to go back later and add a second layer of glue or tape to really make it sturdy! Admittedly, I was doing most of the work here. I think when I do this again, I’d be confident enough to release more of the experience over to the students.

STEM Step 3: Research, Step 4: Get Students Gluing

3) Research

Search for a few images of buildings and structures. Have students take some time to observe and ask, “What do you notice about the buildings?” Also, “Which pieces do you think make the building strong?” To earn a gold star as a teacher, be ready with a few key terms like: ridge pole, corner post, stud, brace, and etc… I just searched building frame construction words and found a pile of great pictures with vocabulary.

4) Get Students Gluing

Next, start layering in the lower half. I had students use regular school glue! We talked about how much glue, where, and how to balance the tube on the wall. Then, they all got to try it out!

5) Frustration and More Research 

STEM Step 5: Frustration and More Research

It was a little frustrating for a few of them at first. We talked about grit and how they can decide what works and what doesn’t. They began to teach each other to be very careful and take their time. At one point, we took a mini-field trip to the outside of the building and noticed that the bricks weren’t lined up, but they were stacked in an offset way. This became our new building technique.

I can’t stress enough that you should let them experience frustration! They aren’t going to care as much about the project if you spoon-feed them and fix problems for them. You have to have some grit, too!

When I noticed they were using really great techniques and had some frustration under their belts, I’d occasionally sneak in and put a few spots of hot glue in just to help the areas that were looking a little droopy. I mean, grit is good, but it is only paper, after all! 

STEM Step 6: Windows

6) Windows

This is where your creative engineers will start to shine. We talked about planning for windows! I wanted them to talk as a team and notice what might be a factor. We knew we were planning to put the stove, fridge, sink, and 2 chairs inside the structure. The door was already planned. So, they decided to put a long window above the sink and a square window on the opposite side. I was waiting for students to discover the tubes wouldn’t magically fit in every space. I showed them how to use scissors to trim in a spiral to shorten the length of the tube. Yes, that’s right… children were cutting paper tubes! Again, no one got hurt. Just be sure to teach them a technique that works. 

STEM Step 7: Roof Design

7) Roof Design

One of our last steps was painting butcher paper for the roof. I showed them how to make the roof look a little like shingles by painting 3 sides of a square. We added random streaks of grey and did brown paint with sponges. I taped the roof to the frame. I think the one thing I would have changed about the project would be the roof. It sagged quite a bit. Next time, I will try to place lightweight cardboard under the paper. I worry about the weight, though. So I’ve also considered some kind of fishing wire or netting. 

STEm Step 8: Moving Day!

8) Moving Day!

The final step was “moving day.” We placed the furniture and doll bed inside. The students had a blast playing, reading, and hanging out in the cabin!

STEM Challenge: Students Reflect and Write Process

A bonus step was having the students write the steps. It worked really well as a reflective piece. Later, we added the images from above to the poster you see here. They really loved the project! So did I!

If you try this project and have any great ideas or solutions for the sagging roof, add your comments! I’d love to hear about your success!

Happy cabin construction!


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