NewspapersPaper Table Design Challenge is completed in teams of no more than 3 students working together to create a table out of newspaper.  The table must be at least 8 inches tall and able to hold a plastic tub that is 38cm long and 28cm wide (15” long and 11” inches) wide.  During the finals, this tub will be gradually filled with sand to determine the maximum weight the table can hold.  The maximum weight will be recorded as soon as any portion of the table crimps, bends, or folds. When a table fails and is no longer structurally sound will be determined by the judge and all decisions are final. 

Covid-19 might be preventing us from being face to face, but it isn’t going to stop the fun or creativity!  We will be completing this challenge in a REMOTE FORMAT. The teams must do all construction of the Paper Table within a 60-minute time frame.  Teachers can determine if they use 60 consecutive minutes or if that time is broken into multiple days, but the total build (including any manipulation) must be within 60 minutes.  Teams are welcomed and encouraged to practice on prototypes, but the final submission must be completely constructed within 60 minutes using no more than 1 roll of standard masking tape.  Tape is the only adhesive allowed; you may not use glue.

Certificate awards are given for maximum weight held, teamwork, efficiency (ratio of weight held divided by the mass of table).

Central Rivers AEA – Cedar Falls
1521 Technology Parkway
Cedar Falls, IA 50613

2021- Cedar Falls office
2022-Clear Lake office
2023-Marshalltown office

Date: March 12, 2021

Register via online form
No limit on the number of teams from a district
Registration closes on March 5th, 2021

Paper Certificates for place 1-3 – maximum weight held
Paper Certificates for place 1-3 – efficiency
Each participant will receive a certificate


Judging Process

Judges will use this scoring sheet
At the start of judges will review the submitted videos, “Tell us about your table and why you built it this way”
Tables will be weighed. This will be used to calculate the efficiency of the table- (ratio of weight held divided by the mass of the table).
After the initial weight is taken, the plastic tub will be placed on the table by the students. If the table successfully holds the plastic tub, sand will be gradually added until the table structurally fails. At this point, the plastic tub with sand will be weighed.



  1. All building of the final product must be done in 60 minutes.
  2. Teams must conduct themselves in a manner that adheres to safety concerns.
  3. The teacher or coach may not assist their teams or provide advice during the competition. 
  4. The judge’s decisions are final.
  5. Paper Table must be free-standing and not attached to anything (floor, table, etc.) 
  6. In order to be a “table”, there must be an opening on the underside that is at least 10cm x 10cm and extends all the way from the tabletop to the bottom of your constructed table.
  7. The table must be shipped or delivered in a completely enclosed cardboard box. (The condition the table arrives in is the condition it will be tested in.)
  8. The table must have accompanying identification that shares the names of the students and school district.  We suggest using an index card for this. Please double-check the spelling of student names as we will use this for certificates.
  9. Each team must complete a submission form via this Google form.  The submission requires a video link of student recording of the team members describing the build process and why you chose the design you did in order to meet the goal of the challenge. Team members should also introduce themselves and share their contributions to the table in the video.  We anticipate this video being no longer than 3 minutes.


How is the efficiency calculated?
The weight of the tub/sand is divided by the weight of the table. The higher the value of that number, the better the efficiency is. For example, a 1.2-pound table holds 10 pounds of sand would be calculated at 10 divided by 1.2 = 8.33 but a 1.9-pound table that holds 10 pounds of sand would have an efficiency of 5.26. This means the “lighter” table has higher efficiency, even though it held the same amount of weight.

What if more than one table holds the same amount of weight and there is a tie?
Efficiency rating will be used to break any ties.

Can we bring extra tape?
No. We will supply one full roll (60 yards) and that is the maximum amount of tape each group can use.

Can we bring a 4th student as an alternate?
No. If you have 4 students, consider creating 2 teams of 2 students each.

My 5th and 6th grades are in a middle school – can they participate?
Your 5th grade is eligible, but the 6th grade is not. The science team now has events for all grade levels and we ask that K-2 students only attend the Discover and Wonder experience, grades 3-5 attend the Paper Table Challenge, grades 6-8th attend the Middle School Paper Roller Coaster, and 9th-12th attend the High School Paper Roller Coaster event.

When the challenge is held in Cedar Falls in 2021, Clear Lake 2022, and so forth – does that mean that that year’s event is only open to schools in that area, or is it open to all schools in Central Rivers AEA? 

No, just because it is held in one of our 3 offices does not mean it is limited to schools only in that area. You are welcome to attend as many years as you would like.