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The Big Treehouse

This is a 12-story treehouse located in Marshalltown, Iowa. The engineering structure is very intricate in order for the treehouse to be stable and sturdy at the top.

Marshalltown, Iowa

Possible Guiding, Compelling and/or Anchoring Questions

  • What construction strategies might help this tall structure remain sturdy? 
  • What environmental factors might affect the height of this structure + how might we be able to eliminate those factors?

Classroom Suggestions

  • Students can work in small groups to build the tallest structures possible out of materials they find in the classroom - Students can then participate in a small competition using popsicle sticks to build a replica of the treehouse with the goal of making the tallest treehouse in the classroom 
    • Setting classroom guidelines will be important (ex: treehouse needs to be able to stand up on its own). Teachers can support students by reminding them of construction strategies used to build the 12-story treehouse. They should also encourage students to focus on building a sturdy base before building more levels. After students have completed their model, the treehouses will be tested to see if it can withstand different environmental factors 
    • Environmental factors can include: 
      • Placing a fan on the treehouse to replicate wind. 
      • Throwing a writing utensil at the treehouse to replicate a tornado.
      • Supporting the weight of a textbook on top of the treehouse for at least a minute without breaking
    • *If the student’s treehouse does not pass any of the tests, then they can reevaluate their designs and make the treehouses sturdier.

Related Resources

Try Engineering- Tall Tower Challenge: This website lists everything needed to complete a tall tower challenge. It also provides an introduction video about the challenge.
Teach Engineering- Straw Towers to the Moon: This is another engineering challenge, this time with straws. This website is amazing and provides various worksheets to use within the lesson.
The Big Treehouse: This website gives all the information about The Big Treehouse in Iowa. One very interesting aspect is it contains a map of the layout of the treehouse. 
PBS - Building Big: PBS has a lot of great resources for ‘building big’. This website contains a lot of different challenges, with supplies needed, for students to conduct their own engineering process.

Iowa Core Alignment


Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Credit Info

Submitted by Ella Brase and Macy Harris

Photo by Jennifer Ciha, Field Trip Iowa


Have you used this resource in your classroom? Do you have ideas for improvement? Share your ideas, experiences and feedback about this phenomena.

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