I decided to take on my own challenge of incorporating a STEM activity every day for a week. It turned out to be a huge success where both my students and I had a blast. Here were the various STEM tasks that they took on:
STEM activity 1: Newspaper towers!
For these towers, the only prep work is collecting old newspapers and rolling them into dowels. It is a bit tedious; however, if you get students to help you before or after school, it’s not so bad! I gave mine classroom tickets as a thank you (read more about my ticket reward system in this post).
The only supplies students were given were: 7 newspaper dowels and two feet of painters tape. They were told that their “tower” needed to be a free standing structure (not taped to the table and not being braced by binders, etc.) and they were only allowed to use the supplies they were given. I did allow them to trade materials; they could trade in an unused dowel for five additional inches of tape or vise verse.Each group had approximately 35 minutes to complete their tower. What they came up with was impressive: A few groups even drew up plans for their designs (awesome!) Once completed, we had about 10 minutes left in class for their creations to be put to the test. Their height was measured as was their strength. The tallest stood 2.5 meters tall (it was pretty weak). The strongest held 10 weights (approximately 5 lbs), very impressive!
These were the weights I used to test strength of the towers:Here is one of them being tested for strength. It wasn’t our top “winner”, but it did well! STEM activity 2: Army Man Launcher!
For this activity, The setup was pretty simple–just buying the materials and getting them laid out. Students were given: one cup, one army man, one spoon, six Popsicle sticks, two rubber bands two feet of tape (they got the tape separately so it didn’t tangle) and two feet of string. They did not have to use all of the materials, but they did need to use at least 2.
This is how I prepped all of the materials on my lab cart (normally, I just put out the materials and have them help themselves since it’s less prep for me, but I had more time so I decided to do it this way):Students came up with some amazing ideas and we all had an absolute blast testing them out! After they field-tested their inventions, I took them outside and they lined up and launched all at the same time. The farthest of the day when over 20 feet! Very impressive! STEM activity 3: Popsicle Bridges!
For this activity, the set-up was simple. I separated the students desks by 1 foot, gave each group 25 Popsicle sticks and 3 feet of tape. Their goal was to make the strongest and most aesthetically pleasing bridge across the great desk divide! (So, I guess because of the artistic component of this bridge, this challenge could be classified as STEAM rather than STEM). Some students initially grumbled about having to air their bridge nice looking; however, when I explained that this is a real issue addressed when bridges are built because people don’t want to look at an eye-sore, they want bridges to be beautiful!
Super easy setup for this one! Here are my lovely bundles of sticks:The students really rose to the challenge and came up with some amazing bridge designs: To test the strength of each bridge, I used the same half pound weights I tested the towers with. The winners of the day were able to hold between 5 and 7 pounds! Outstanding! STEM activity 4: Designing Life Jackets for Babies!
I adapted this idea from one of the NSTA magazines. My adaptation uses: one rubber band, one plastic baby and one small peice of pipe insulation per students (This activity is cheap! The tiny babies came from a dollar store and were with the baby shower decorations and the pipe insulator was only $1.79).The idea for this activity is that students need to design a life jacket for a baby. The head must stay above water, no matter how it enters the water. In order to keep them from getting too silly with a water activity that involves miniature plastic babies, we discussed the importance of something like this and the need for safety. They took their task seriously, but still had fun with it! This was definitely much more challenging than they realized it would be. They spent the entire 40 minutes given to them trying to make it work. Many got very frustrated but then celebrated excessively when they finally figured it out. Overall, I would say they had fun with this one. This was the first individual task they had all week and they rose to the challenge.
STEM activity #5: The Unsinkable Ship!
The prep for this activity was fairly minimal. Each student got a 6×6 inch square of aluminum foil and about a 2×2 inch square of cardboard. Their goal: built/design a boat that could hold the most amount of mass before sinking.Overall, I was impressed by the focus and the variety of boats I saw. I was afraid by giving them cardboard I would see a lot of flat-bottom boats; however, this was not the case! Many of the boat designs varied greatly and they seemed interested in how theirs would stack up against the others.
This week of STEM activities was astonishing to me. Not only did the students have fun, but they were so focused for every activity. Normally, I give lab sheets that they fill out as they go to keep them focused (typically these handouts include data tables, graphing, analysis questions and full written conclusions). For these activities I did not give handouts and they were just as focused without them. For some kind of follow-through, I did have them write about what they learned in their daily warm-up (what worked, what did not work, what they would do differently next time). I would highly suggest trying something like this in your classroom–allow them to play by giving a challenge and they will rise to the occasion, all while having fun learning!
-The Ardent Teacher
Want to try this in your classroom but don’t have the time to create the handouts? You can now purchase the entire week’s handouts as a bundle in my TpT store! Check it out!
If you enjoyed reading this post, check out this other week long STEM project I did about the Crashworthiness of cars!