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Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

The Paper Chain- An Easy Prep STEM Challenge

The paper chain is perfect for Back to School time or anytime- this easy prep STEM activity is engaging and full of problem-solving.

Best of all, this challenge uses one main material – paper. You can opt to use tape or staples, too!

STEM Challenge – This project uses one sheet of paper! Students must create the longest paper chain possible. Great problem-solving STEM activity!

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One Material? Yes!

I mean, how simple is this? Paper. One sheet. One piece of paper. Yes, copy paper- in any color. You will also need tape or staplers.

How does the Paper Chain work?

STEM Activity – This project uses one sheet of paper! Students must create the longest paper chain possible. Great problem-solving STEM challenge!

The kids were told this:

“Make a paper chain with one sheet of paper. You may cut it and you may use tape or staples. Your goal is to make the longest chain you can.”

Many teams did what you see in this photo. They cut strips of paper and folded them end to end to make a traditional interlocking paper chain.

This was interesting to watch as they created assembly lines to make the strips, tape, and add the next strip.

Some Interesting Paper Chains…

STEM Challenge – This project uses one sheet of paper! Students must create the longest paper chain possible. Great problem-solving STEM activity!

Some finished chains…

The one in the top photo was made by a group of third graders that did not know how to make an interlocking chain, but knew how it should look.

So, they drew it on paper! Can you see the pencil marks? Then they cut it out and then cut the centers out. That was it- there was not enough paper left to add to it. But, what a great effort.

The bottom photo is showing another unique method. The team cut out tiny circles and then taped them together. Their final chain was very short because it took so long to make the circles.

The Length of the Paper Chains

STEM Challenge – This project uses one sheet of paper! Students must create the longest paper chain possible. Great problem-solving STEM activity!

The Longest Chains

Every year the longest chains are the ones made like these photos. Straight narrow strips of paper taped end-to-end.

Our longest ever was 31 feet.

Of course, this type of “chain” is always controversial. Is it a chain?

The first time I saw the straight method of a chain I began hearing the complaints as soon as I started to stretch the chains out on the floor to share. I heard students complaining that the “chains” that were just strips of paper were not real chains.

So, I said, “What is a chain?” We pieced together all the responses and basically decided a chain is anything that is connected. A chain of events, a chain reaction, a chain necklace. But it does not have to be interlocking circles. So, why did we immediately think the straight line chains were unfair?

It’s all about our perception of the task. We each bring our own perspective or perception to each task and this is why we sometimes disagree, but by listening to one another we can work out the best possible way to complete a task. It was a DELIGHTFUL discussion and I had a student say this, “But, Mrs. Davis, isn’t that what life is?” Wow! 

Yes, life is about not letting your perceptions, perspectives, or prejudices be your only way to make a decision! 

I decided creating Paper Chains was a perfect way to start our year in the STEM Lab! One material, a little bit of tape, great fun, and the ultimate in teamwork! How long will your chains be?

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STEM Project – This challenge uses one sheet of paper! Students must create the longest paper chain possible. Great problem-solving STEM activity!

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    Comments

    1. Isn't it awesome to see how their little minds work? I love seeing students work on science! Nice read – will be re-pinning on my Pinterest boards.
      Have a delightful school year!
      Angela from Mrs. Willyerd's Virtual Classroom

    2. Thanks for visiting Angela! I love watching kids solve problems in the lab! They think so differently than me!

    3. Such a perfect, easy idea! I'm going to do that with my kiddos today!

      Jamie
      Life As I Know It

    4. What an exciting, open-ended problem for kids to tackle. I love the discussion the kids engaged in as they presented and defended their work. Maybe as a follow-up activity you could challenge them to design the strongest chain. How would they modify their design? Would staples or tape be the best tool? Is there another way they could attach the paper together? I can't wait to try it out in class. Thank you for the idea!

    5. Thank you for the additional ideas! Have fun trying this and thanks for visiting my blog!

    6. I did this STEM challenge with my class today as part of my "Get to Know your Brain" and "Growth Mindsets unit. Wow!! It was so much fun. Who knew something so inexpensive and simple could provide such a rich learning and team building experience. I too, had a variety of chain styles. My inclusion assistant stared in awe as she looked up the definition of a chain and realized the kids who were making the end to end change were just as correct as the interlocking chain teams. I was so impressed with my class and it's only the first week of school! Thank you for posting this activity, it really helped my students practice growth mindsets.

    7. I am so glad you tried this! It's really an interesting event. Some kids have no idea what to do and some immediately start making those looped chains. I did this about two weeks ago (again) with third graders and we had one chain that was 26.5 feet long! It's a fabulous beginning of the year activity! Thanks for visiting!

    8. Such a brilliant discussion! I know that my upcoming class will need lots of teambuilding practice and guidance. I'm planning to start with this activity the first week. Thank you so much for sharing.
      Jan
      Laughter and Consistency

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