Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

The Easiest of Materials- Paper Chains!

Are you ready to tackle a STEM activity?  

Do you need easy prep? Easy directions? Something for teamwork?  

I’ve got you covered with a really, really, really easy STEM task using only ONE material.

Paper Chains STEM Challenge- Using one piece of paper, create the longest possible chain. So much problem solving happens in this simple challenge! Perfect for team building.

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.

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 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 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 started hearing the complaints as soon as I started to stretch the chains out on the floor to share I heard kids 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 this 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?

Paper Chains STEM Challenge- Using one piece of paper, create the longest possible chain. So much problem solving happens in this simple challenge! Perfect for team building.

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  1. Angela says

    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. Carol Davis says

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

  3. Life As I Know It... says

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

    Life As I Know It

  4. Unknown says

    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. Carol Davis says

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

  6. Unknown says

    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. Carol Davis says

    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. JanCT says

    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.
    Laughter and Consistency

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