Hi! My name is Meredith, and I blog over at Momgineer, which focuses on ways to engage students in engineering, math and science. I am so excited to be here guest posting here at Minds in Bloom with Engineering on a Dime: 3 STEM Challenges You Can Do Today!
STEM challenges are a great way to explore engineering when you lack the time to devote to a rigorous engineering design challenge. These three challenges can be set up with very little prep time and with materials you either have on hand or can easily obtain.
STEM challenges naturally lend themselves to team-building, so I recommend exploring the challenges in small groups. Appropriate for a wide range of ages, they even work well with mixed-age groups, particularly if you have lower elementary students who can express their ideas but lack the fine motor or math skills to see their design ideas through to a finished embodiment.
I have created a graphic organizer as well as an interactive foldable sheet that you can use with each of these challenges. Recording and reviewing the process is just as important part of the process as the building! You can download the pages here or by clicking on the image below:
1) Tallest Tower
This challenge can be repeated many times with a variety of materials!
- Choose materials: Craft sticks, paper or plastic cups (easier), pipe cleaners (harder), wooden planks/dominoes, building blocks, a deck of cards, or even biodegradable packing peanuts. Set the timer! Adding a 5-minute time constraint will drastically transform the way your students approach the problem.
- Measure it!: Make sure you have your students accurately measure how tall their tower is. You can plot them all on a bar graph afterward to compare and find the range of heights achieved.
- Make it more challenging: Reduce the time even more, or, if you are able, have your students do this one blindfolded or with their eyes closed. This leads to team-building like you've never seen it!
2) Challenging Maze
If you ever had the game Labyrinth as a child, this one is sure to bring back some fun memories!
- Choose materials: Shoebox/cardboard box and Play-doh® or modeling clay are fast and easy choices, but try out other materials, too, such as paper towel rolls with holes cut in the sides or even LEGO® bricks!
- Test it!: Have your students try each maze that has been created and record their time. See who earned the fastest time on each maze and determine which maze was the hardest based on average time!
- Make it more challenging: Create a 3-D maze or one where the marble is not visible the whole way through! In the image with the cardboard tubes above, you can't see the marble when it is in each tube, but you can see it in between the tubes. An even more challenging maze relies on both listening skills to hear where the marble is and possibly feeling the vibrations as it travels through the tubes.
3) Pompom Launcher
This might become your students' favorite challenge! If you are feeling brave, you can complete this one right after the tower challenge and have your students try to knock their towers over with pompom projectiles.
- Choose materials: Paper towel rolls, binder clips, rubber bands, plastic spoons, pipe cleaners, index paper, tape, paper clips, and craft sticks.
- Test it!: Have your students launch 10 pompoms and record how far they all went, and then either have your students add up their three longest distances or find the average.
- Make it more challenging: Have a target that has to be hit, such as a hula hoop or paper cup, or the paper cup towers from challenge #1!
General tips for doing STEM challenges:
- Gather resources ahead of time, and always gather more materials than you think you'll need! Ask for donations of paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, etc. Line up human support, as well, from parents or other teachers, particularly for younger groups.
- Have a digital camera/smartphone on hand to snap photos of your students' creations. Post them to your class blog or print them out to paste into your interactive science notebooks. Sometimes it can be difficult to part with a creation when the time comes to clean up, but snapping a photo and telling your students they can recreate it by studying the photo and their notes almost always works.
- Remember to recognize your students not just for their final designs but for all aspects of a successful STEM challenge. Which teams worked well together? Which students documented the steps in a clear and detailed way? Who uniquely solved the problem, even if it didn't work as well in the end?
I hope you have a lot of fun with these 3 STEM challenges!
I am thrilled to guest blog for Minds in Bloom! A little about me: Prior to my current gig as a homeschooling parent of two, I was a mechanical engineer. I love creating hands-on engineering challenges to help inspire the next generation of engineers. Feel free to stop on over at my blog, momgineer, and say hello.