Kid’s love STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) challenges. I love the hands-on learning that occurs with them. This was a fun activity that I did with several kindergarten classes, ages 3-6. We have been reading some books about how cold it is where polar bears live. Although these animals are specially adapted to their environment, I still thought that it would be a fun, and easy, idea for a STEM challenge.
I showed students my polar bear figure so that everyone knew roughly how big their structure needed to be. I then brought out their building materials – mini marshmallows! The marshmallows and some toothpicks were the only materials that they were given.
Using the materials, they had to create some kind of structure that the polar bear could fit into. The structure also needed to give some protection from the cold. They did not have to use toothpicks, I just made them available to them.
The structures that everyone came up with were beyond what I had imagined! This is why I love my job – I am impressed on a daily basis what children are capable of creating and imagining. There were so many different structures that they made!
Some students created igloo type structure without toothpicks. Others created a 3-d structure for the bear. Others filled the toothpicks with marshmallows and then stacked them. It was very rewarding to hear students talking as they built and noticing the geometric shapes that they were creating (cube, triangle etc.) I was also surprised by how careful and on-task children were during this challenge. They would have easily worked for an hour to create their structure.
One of my favourite things that I have noticed over years of doing STEM for kids, and perhaps the most important lesson for students to take from the challenges, is that my students rarely get discouraged when their first attempt doesn’t work out. Even when a structure keeps falling down, they will tell me “that’s okay, I’ll just build it again.” They are learning through this trial and error and know that their only failure is if they quit or don’t learn from their mistakes. It is very rewarding to see.
If you are looking to pair this activity with a book, the book, “Cold Paws, Warm Heart” by Madeleine Floyd is a great lead into the challenge. It is about a polar bear that is freezing in the snow. A little girls tries different things to warm him up. In then end, it is a warm hug that warms him from the inside.