Are you ready to go back to school? I am guessing you are and I know you are excited to get busy decorating and organizing and planning!
Let me help you with some easy-peasy STEM Challenges!
It’s all about Towers!
Now, let me just tell you—- we build towers ALL THE TIME! Kids love towers! They love talking about them, telling us which tall buildings or towers they know something about, and they love building them!
Of course, I would say they really love the competitive part of towers! I mean, who doesn’t want to have the tallest tower, right? So, last year we invented some towers that aren’t always going to be very tall. I came up with some ideas for towers that have a function (and one that is just purely silly fun) – and height might not be part of it.
Here are FIVE towers that your kids will love!
Let’s start with Water towers. My idea here was to have kids think about why you would need a water tower and then build one. With my test class I had a group build one that satisfied all the constraints and it took them about four and a half minutes!
So, you know what I did— I changed the rules and made it harder.
Of course, I did- that’s why we have a test class. (By the way, my classes love being the test class! It’s pretty weird, but kids will actually ask if they are the testers. I think they like stopping and changing the rules or solving the mystery of what will work for other classes.)
Don’t you love that photo above. Those boys are ready to catch their water container, aren’t they?
This one satisfied the task constraints, but that little water container part is perched rather precariously I might say! After testing it the team went back and added some features to make it safer! It’s called Improving in the Engineering Design Process!
This is a one day challenge with some easy materials to gather. Just have some towels ready!
This one came about one day when I drove by an apartment building and noticed every single balcony and window had a satellite dish attached. I wondered why the apartment complex didn’t just have one giant satellite dish that everyone could connect to. So, I took that thought into class and asked students to design a satellite dish tower that could reach thousands of people. We tried some materials that worked well with actually appearing to be satellites.
The trick on this challenge was that students had to work as two separate teams. One half of the team built the satellite dish while the other half built the tower. Then they had to connect them together and the dish had to be movable. Pretty tricky, right? We loved this one and it was a one day challenge using materials I had already! Win-win!
To be completely honest this challenge came about in an effort to be frugal with materials. I teach multiple classes and I really have to think about supplies all the time! This challenge uses index cards- any size you want and each group gets only 12.
Twelve cards and a little bit of tape and then they build a tower.
The first time I tried this I had a lot of muttering and whining about the lack of materials and then the kids got busy. Here’s the thing: Kids will do what they have to do! Give them ten tons of things with no restraints and they will use all the things. ALL of them. And they will waste a lot of it. One thing we have definitely learned to do is use materials wisely and make do. Isn’t that real life?
Here’s another thing! You would think that with such a small amount of supplies all of their towers would look the same. No way! They tried such amazing things to solve this one and it was so fun to watch. And, they were so PROUD of being able to get a standing tower. This is an amazing and simple challenge and would be perfect at the beginning of your school year- without breaking your budget!
Well, let me just tell you- the index card tower with only twelve cards was such a hit- I had to try the same premise with a different material- STRAWS! Now, you would think it would be practically the same building challenge, but it was so much more challenging. Twelve straws was hard! Most kids wanted to build a very, very tall tower and use those spindly legs as the support base. What do you think happened? Yeah, they fell over!
So, kids learned that they would have to try many things to make the bottom more secure. Take a look at the top photos. The first thing I notice is the teeny tiny amount of tape that team used! Ha- I have said this so many times: My students know how to use tape wisely. That team made those four tall skinny legs and then secured them at the top and somehow that one stood up! The other thing we noticed was how the kids used the bendy part of the straws in such clever ways! This one was a hit with my fourth graders and it’s another that would be great to try at the beginning of the year!
This one makes me laugh every time we do it! I call it a Spoon Tower and kids have no idea what is happening until they open their materials bins. They are all for this tower design until they are told that one of the rules is that the plastic spoon must be at the top of the tower! Why? Well, it’s purely simple- cause when I invented this one I just pulled out a bunch of wacky materials and thought a spoon on the top would be funny.
Then kids loved building it! You just never know!!
This challenge has an updated portion that includes a constraint that the tower must serve a purpose and the spoon must be a functional part. In the above photo you see the Statue of liberty and the spoon is Lady Liberty’s torch!
Again, this one is great for the beginning of the year – just for fun!
So, which one are you going to try? STEM is a great way to build community at the beginning of the school year! All of these towers are fantastic and easy to set up. Best of all, KIDS LOVE THEM! (Click on any image to see more!)