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What If You Only Have 12 Items?

Sometimes I invent the best things! No, I’m actually serious. Sometimes I have an idea for the STEM Lab and it just works. Beautifully!  

Now, don’t get me wrong. I also have moments where everything goes south and the project fizzles and we just laugh it off.  

But, occasionally a moment of genius happens and it is amazing and fun. These two tower projects just happen to be the best of times!

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

Now, you know I like to stay organized, so let’s break this story down:

  • The Background and Original Challenge
  • Straws Modified (and genius)
  • Cards Original
  • Cards Modified (also genius)
STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

The Background

This set of challenges originated with something very basic. Use the easiest and smallest amount of materials possible. I constantly look for ways to simplify because of teaching multiple classes.

So, the Dozens Challenges were born from this need. Use only 12 of something was the idea.

With the first one, we used 12 straws to build a tower.

The next year (when it was time to repeat this challenge) I had a major brain pop!

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

 What if we added something wacky to the challenge? Twelve straws and just random do-dads.   I went through my cabinets and gathered an assortment of weird things- interlocking cubes, washers, bottle caps, cups, empty tape inserts, and anything else that I thought could be used.

We made this even more fun by giving every team something different. They all had 12 straws, but each had 4 of one of the weird items. We had so much fun with these. Some of the items worked great and were very useful and some were challenging.

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

Straws Modified

This past spring I had another major genius idea. What if the tower had to resemble something? So I made some picture task cards. The challenge became to build whatever tower was on the card.  

Just take a look at the photo to the left.

Above is the Eiffel Tower. This team added bands of brown paper to make the different levels of the tower. Pretty clever!

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

On the far left is the Space Needle with the platform at the top. On the far right is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  

This modification added just a tad more challenge to this activity and it was so fun during sharing time.

I also learned that students were familiar with some of these worldwide landmarks!

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

12 Cards Original

Another part of the Dozens set is the Index Card Tower challenge- using only 12 index cards. This one is super easy to do. The only problem we have ever had with it is that almost every tower ends up being the same size. With only twelve cards you are limited in height.

This takes some of the competitiveness out of this challenge, so, what if added the landmark rule to this one!

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific

Cards Modified

So, of course, after we loved the 12 Straw Tower with the photo task cards I decided to try it again with 12 cards.   I did choose slightly different towers because using cards restricted the shape of the tower.

The far left is the Leaning Tower of Pisa model.

The far right is the Statue of Liberty!

No matter which version you choose to try I promise your students will amaze you with their creativity – and with such limited materials! Have fun! (Click on any image to see details in my store!)

STEM Challenges using the easiest materials and only 12. It's either 12 straws or 12 cards and both projects are challenging. Both include many variations to make kids think outside the box! #STEM #teachersareterrific