With the amount of waste we produce every year, I try to make any prototype or making as eco-friendly as possible. I save and store cardboard boxes from Amazon. I hold onto paper rolls. I even save used wrapping paper when I can. So making with plastic straws always bothered me. Not only are they a environmental hazard, but they are mostly a single use material. I have used them in the past for making challenges, then collected the cut-up scraps for other projects like making beads, but they were still a forever problem that would be part of this Earth for a very long time.
Enter PAPER STRAWS! They may not be a favorite of Starbuck drinkers, but as a building material they are outstanding! Paper straws have many of the qualities you want in a building material. They are sturdy, thick, and take to glue and tape like a champ! Unlike plastic straws, they also take to paint really well.
I have used them in small building challenges such as "building the tallest tower" with surprising results. Because they are not easily bent, students have to problem solve and devise a different way to connect them. In the past, students would connect them on end by slipping one end into the other. Since crimping them is difficult, I've noticed that some students are connecting a straw to another by laying a third along side the meeting ends and then taping all three (see below)
Its problem solving like this that is breathing new life into old challenges by just merely changing building materials. Another consequence of using paper straws is that students are using their properties to their advantage. For example, in the pre mentioned challenge, I noticed students putting more effort into building a base for their tower. Because the straws were so sturdy, they realized they could make a stronger platform from which they could build vertically.
Paper straws are a little more expensive, but still economical enough to use in everyday making and challenges. A box of 300 is about $10.00 on Amazon. More importantly, they are a responsible way to teach making.