Another in the paper as manipulatives series (see here or here for background)
Here are the rules of today's competition. Each team is presented with a bucket and a hook four or five feet off the ground and is given a couple of dozen sheets of ordinary typing paper. The object is to suspend the bucket at least two feet from the hook using nothing but the sheets of paper (scissors are allowed). The winner is the team with the chain that can support the most weight
This assignment should be as open as possible and when you're explaining it, you might want to stop with the paragraph above and see where the kids go from there. On the other hand, it's often useful to give them something to build on, so here are a couple of ideas to get things started.
Method 1. Slots and notches
One simple way of joining paper is to make small cuts. You can make matching cuts, each of which extend to the edge of the paper so that the cuts can interlock, or you can cut a hole in one end of a piece of paper then cut a slot so that the end is bigger than the hole you thread it through.
Method 2. Tubes
Take a sheet of paper and roll it into the tightest tube you can manage. Bend the tube in three places to form a triangle (the bends also serve to keep the tube from unraveling), then insert one end of the tube into the other (you may need to pinch the end you're inserting to get it started). Jam it as snug as you can without tearing or crumpling.
The resulting triangle, like most of our paper manipulatives, is surprisingly sturdy, particularly when force is applied in certain ways. You can do some interesting construction projects using these triangles and little if anything else, but right now we're interested in using them as links in a chain.
As with most things, the strength of your chain will depend on how much of the force is borne by the strongest part. In this case that will be one of the two sides that don't include the join.
There are, of course, other ways of making paper chains (and there's no reason some kind of a paper rope couldn't be used instead). It's entirely possible that the kids will come up with something we hadn't even thought of.
Making this a very successful assignment indeed.