Library Lab: Paper Engineering

Kathy; Elizabeth

What kinds of tools do you use at home? 

We use tools everyday when we brush our teeth, open canned food, even eat dinner with a knife and fork. These tools make our lives easier. Can you imagine eating a baked potato without utensils? They don’t call them hot potatoes for nothing. Ouch! 

Engineers are people whose job it is to help design products that help people. They design roads, buildings, electrical systems and so much more. You can explore the engineering design process at home by creating a simple household tool out of paper. 

We did this during Library Lab recently. Check out the video and then design and build a long-handled “grabber” out of paper that will allow you to pick up a paper apple from a table and hand it to someone without dropping it.

Try It! Challenge: Design an Apple Trapper

Supplies needed: 

Different types of paper such as printing paper, paper bags, magazines, junk mail. 

Scotch tape or stickers 


Pencil or markers

What to do:

  • Grab a pencil and sketch a few designs for a tool with a long handle that can help you pick up an object from the table if you were standing a short distance away. Think about tools in your home that you might use to do chores around the house. What designs might you imitate? What about a broom and dust pan, a shovel, or salad tongs?
  • Roll, crush or fold a piece of paper into the shape of your choice. Is it long enough? Connect several pieces of paper together so you have a long handle. Add anything else you think will help you pick up a paper apple. 
  • Place some crumpled paper on the table. This is your apple orchard. Take a big step back and see if you can pick up an apple using your tool and hand it to someone.
  • If you couldn’t pick it up, re-think your design. Why didn’t it work? What can you do to make it better? Go back and make some simple adjustments and re-try.
  • If it did work, try picking up more than one apple at the same time. If you couldn’t -- what can you change to make your apple trapper able to pick up more than one apple? 
  • Set a timer for 30-seconds or one minute and see how many apples you can pick up in that time. 

What Science Did We Learn Today? 

The Apple Trapper is a type of simple machine called a lever -- which means it is a stiff bar that moves something. Other levers include brooms, shovels, forks, tweezers, baseball bats and hockey sticks. A machine is anything that makes a force bigger. When you applied force to your apple grabber with your arms and hands, it created a greater force that allowed you to pick up the apple.

Web resources:

Mystery Science Apple Trapper Activity is available free through June 30. 

Create paper triangular building blocks and build a tower. How many oreo cookies can you balance on top?  

Explore fun e-resources in our STEAM Media List for Young Scientists.



This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.


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