Topographical Tapigami

“Getting smarter takes work, just like getting stronger physically or becoming a better ball player does.  Sometimes it even hurts!  But when you feel your brain becoming smarter, all the hard work is worth it!” (Independent School Magazine)

Our 4th graders recently started building a topographical map of California using tapigami.  They were each given a 1’x1′ floor tile with one piece of a (large) topographical map of California glued on top.   Each pair of students is building the topography of their region using tapigami and a elevation key and at the end, they will take all their squares and assemble them, like a puzzle, revealing a twelve foot long three dimensional map of the state.

When I arrived to help in Heather’s class I found the students reading the quote at the top of the post.  The growth mindset to intelligence and ability is at the core of why we Make at Lighthouse.  Through Making, our students are learning to be persistent and learning that through this persistence, they are capable of things they never thought they would be able to do.

Making9-13 170

How does this relate to tapigami?  Well it is pretty difficult for many people (of all ages) to learn to do, it takes many trials to learn, and it takes quite a bit of patience.  Tape, by its very nature, is a sticky mess and in the hands of a tapigami novice often results in your creation turning into a misshapen blob, nothing like the rolling hills and mountains of our state.  In addition, although making a 1’x1′ tile may not seem to be trying, if each tapigami mountain were just one inch square (they are generally smaller) it would take 144 to cover the entire tile.  I don’t know what you remember about being in 4th grade, but I know that doing anything 144 times is quite extensive.

So, how did they do?  Well, we started by making tapigami tubes, although some of us hit a hitch when we started trying to twist the tape instead of roll it.  Then we rolled our tubes into cones and placed them on the tiles to show the heights of the Bay Area hills, the Sierras, and of course our highest peak Mount Whitney.  Generally with a good dose of adult coaching most students were able to make their first tapigami mountains after a few trials.  And the students were persistent – they kept trying and trying, even when it was clear they wanted to give up.  Ever since the day we started, the 4th grade teachers report that their students are eager to return to tapigami!Making9-13 187

The initial inspiration for this project was an incredible tapigami city at the 2013 Bay Area Makers Faire.  You can learn to make your own tapigami structures by purchasing a book from the artist Danny Scheible at!

Quote from:

“Independent School Magazine.” You Can Grow Your Intellegence. National Association of Independent Schools, 2008. Web. 8 Oct 2013. <>

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Aaron Vanderwerff

Aaron Vanderwerff is passionate about engaging students in making and independent inquiry in the classroom, particularly students underrepresented in STEM fields. Vanderwerff currently oversees design and making programs at Lighthouse, which includes coaching teachers and facilitating professional development. This effort came out of his making class, which culminates in students exhibiting their independent projects at the Maker Faire. Vanderwerff has taught high school science in the Bay Area for the past ten years. Before joining Lighthouse, he taught ninth-grade physics and was science department chair at San Lorenzo High School, and taught math in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso.