STEM Challenge Engineering Activity

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STEM Challenge Engineering Activity

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Take your STEM challenge to the next level with this hands-on engineering activity that will test building skills and spark imagination.

Finally we have beautiful weather!  I have been waiting to do this activity for quite some time and I’m so happy with how it turned out.  I have been doing a lot of STEM activities and challenges with my children at home, and school, and they are really enjoying them. I really wanted to challenge my kids with a large scale hands-on STEM challenge, and this was perfect!

I teach kindergarten so I try to plan as many hands-on activities as possible. My students love building and creating, and they also love being outside. You can certainly do this STEM challenge inside, but if the weather is nice, it’s always a great chance to be outside.

I am finding that my kindergarten classes are constantly asking if we are going to be doing science.  Therefore, I am planning more and more STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) lessons because they love it!  Also, I feel that it is such an important subject(s) and I am really enjoying every lesson that we do!  Watching how students work and solve problems during these periods has been very rewarding!

Materials

  • Large Sheets of Fabric
  • Large Plastic Clothes Pins
  • Long Sticks of Wood (Approximately 10 thick sticks and 10 thin for each group)
  • Pipe Cleaners (Optional)
  • String (Optional)
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Some of the materials that I used for this activity were a bit pricey. I purchased the fabrics at a fabric store, but they were not cheap. However, they were an item that I use on a regular basis for lots of outdoor activities so, for me, it was money well spent. However, if you are looking for a cheaper alternative, you can use an old bed sheet or any type of large sheet.

The fabrics that I used have a bit of a stretch in them which made them easier to manipulate for this activity; however, with all STEM activities, keep it simple and use what you have. If you don’t have long sticks of wood, use branches or measuring sticks.

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The Challenge

Today, I told children that they were going to be mini engineers!  I asked them to create a structure that at least one child from their group could sit in. This was the only direction and instructions that I gave them. It was up to them to interpret them in a way that made sense to them and then work with their group to come up with a solution.

I split the class into 6 groups, of 5 students per group.  Each group got a bin of heavy duty clothes pins, pipe cleaners, pieces of string, and an assortment of sticks (about 10 strong sticks, just over a meter long, and 10 shorter, thinner sticks/twigs).

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Since I did this activity with kindergarten, we first had the discussion that the sticks were not to be used as swords. Yup, it was a necessary conversation, but then we were ready to build.

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The only other direction I gave children was that when I practiced and experimented with the materials at home with my kids, my structure fell down several times before I had something that worked!  Try and try again and never give up!

Sometimes children knowing that I don’t expect them to be successful right away is important. Knowing that even I had to try several times, let them know that it was okay for them to do the same. The process is what is important.

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Once groups started finding things that worked, their structures really started to take shape. The plastic clothes pins can be challenging to hold the wood pieces together, but the pipe cleaners can help stabilize the tents.

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Some groups began using a near by fence to help keep their structure stable as well. They leaned their wood against the fence and then built the tent around it. Although this was not the intention, I also love that the kids used what they had available to them to come up with a solution.

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Groups did amazing!  They all stuck with it for the whole period and a lot of great discussion happened.  At first conversations were about what worked before their structure fell, what they wanted to try and what wasn’t/was working. 

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This activity does work best with small groups. It was a great opportunity for kids to work together and share ideas and strategies. Small groups also allowed the kids to help each other by holding the sticks as other group members attached them together.

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I love the fact that this STEM challenge is life size versus the small materials I typically use with STEM activities. Groups were creative to find a way to use the materials so that a group member could sit in it.

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Some groups used trees near them as support for their structure, others buried an end of their sticks in the ground for extra support.  Others used the fabric as a carpet rather than a roof so that they could all sit in it.  Technically this group did complete the challenge, and they were really proud of their work so it was a success.

By the end, almost every group had created a structure of some kind.  It was a great day of learning and I was so proud of them!

If you are working with older children, or looking for a way to extend the activity, you can have children plan and sketch their tent structure out before they start building.

You can also give kids a chance to build with small materials before using the actual wooden sticks and fabric sheets. You can use popsicle sticks, regular clothes pins and small pieces of fabrics (about the size of a washcloth). Children can manipulate the small materials as a test run before using the larger materials.

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Still Looking for More Hands-On Activities?

I love creating hands-on activities and other STEM challenges. All of my activities are lessons that I have tried out in class with large groups of children. A few of my favourites are below. I hope that you get some ideas to do with your kids!

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