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Cardboard Chair Challenge

One of the most difficult of design challenges for students to do involves designing devices or systems about which they have no prior knowledge. Such is not a problem with the cardboard chair challenge from the Brooklyn Tech HS test-bed, cultivated by Ed Goldman. Everyone has interactions with chairs -- product familiarity is a strength of this home-grown task. Since students will be redesigning, you might want to review the Ways of Naive Designers.

This 5-7-week activity asks students to design-and-build a full-sized chair from two 4' x 5' pieces of corrugated cardboard, without using tape or fasteners. The chair must support a 70-kg (150-lb) user when sitting down and leaning back. Students learn about paper as a building material and the statics and dynamics of structures. They first generate chair ideas as small index-card models, and then scale up selected ideas to full size.

DITC's Cardboard Chair section holds the following:

  •  Key Concepts  Listen to movies where Ed describes how chairs work and the method of technical drawing called "orthographic projection drawing".
  •  Video Timeline  Watch a chronological sampling of lessons from the Cardboard Chair task, including final presentations in front of a group of external judges.
  •  Designing Your Cardboard Chair Lesson  Suggestions for mainly tech ed teachers on issues to consider when planning out a Cardboard Chair unit.
  •  Student Work  Read a sample final report written by a student and the rubric Goldman uses to assess it.

Here are the materials you will need for this activity:

  • Index cards for prototyping model chairs
  • Oaktag folders for quarter-scale chair models
  • 3 4'x5' sheets per team corrugated cardboard for final chair (1 sheet for half scale, 2 sheets for full scale)
  • Box cutters, metal rulers, scissors and poster materials

Documents and Handouts
View or print out copies of the Cardboard Chair materials by clicking on the items below:
   Cardboard Chair Main Challenge (1 page)
   Investigations of Paper Structures (1 page)
   Key Concepts on Structures (8 pages)
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