STEM Challenge

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STEM Challenge


I am fascinated by, and learn so much by watching children problem solve especially during STEM challenges (Science Technology Engineering and Math).  I am always very proud of the kids I work with when they are working on a STEM challenge and something doesn’t work, and I hear the words “That’s okay, we can do it again better”.  This is music to my ears.

For this STEM challenge all you need are cups, large popsicle sticks and a plastic character. If you don’t have popsicle sticks, you can also cut cardboard into long rectangles and use in place of popsicle sticks. (It works really well!)

STEM challenge

Throughout our STEM activities, the children and I talk about thinking like an engineer, and never giving up and learning from their mistakes.  I really feel like most of my students now approach these challenges with this attitude; which in many ways is more important than the actual challenge. 

stem challenge

Today our STEM challenge involved building a tower as tall as possible to ‘reach to the sky’.  Children were given the materials that they were allowed to use encouraged to use as many of the materials as they could.

stem challenge

For this STEM challenge kids were paired up and given a stack of approximately 15-20 cups, roughly 20 large popsicle sticks and a little plastic character to build the tower for.

Children needed to build a tower as tall as possible and then set their character on top.  As long as the character does not fall off, we call it a success.  The tallest tower that was created was 9 cups high.  Can you create one higher?

STEM challenge

In all 4 classes that I did this STEM challenge with, the first 15 minutes for almost every group was spent just stacking the cups.  This is an important step for young kids. Children need this time to explore and experiment with their materials. They are testing out what works with the cups and sticks. Once they felt comfortable with their materials, then they really began to build.

stem challenge

After experimenting with the materials, groups then began using the popsicle sticks to help stabilize the levels.  It was interesting to watch group after group come to this solution.

stem challenge

Kids worked for the whole period, happily building and rebuilding their towers.  Every group’s tower fell at some point and then they built it again. 

We ended up with quite a collection of towers. Some were tall, whereas other groups build out instead of up, but their creations were typically stronger. This is a really simple STEM challenge that you can do at home or at school.

stem challenge

I love seeing the progress and strategies students use the more they are exposed to STEM challenges.  The activities create great problem solvers and children that persist when presented with a challenge.  It is very rewarding to watch – both a parent and teacher.

Extension Activities

Once children have built with these materials there are lots of other activities you can do with them.

Challenge children to build with only a specific number of cups and/or sticks.

Use a ruler to measure and compare tower heights.

Build a tower or house with a doorway at the front.

What is the fewest number of cups/sticks you can build a tower with?

Build a tower that is longer than you.

For another STEM building challenge with paper towel rolls and paper plates, click the lin –

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