One of the best challenges you can try in your STEM class is one we have done over and over again. This one is a kid-favorite and a teacher-favorite. There are several reasons you will love this challenge, but I will let a fifth grader explain it better.
“Oh man, our tower was, like 30 cm tall, and then we saw one leg buckling, and we knew it was over. The whole thing crashed. We gotta rebuild, but I have another idea!”
And, by the way, when I inquired about the new idea I was told that they noticed the buckling tower leg and knew those sections needed to be built differently. Folks, this is what it means to learn from your mistakes! And that is just one of the reasons this the best ever challenge? Keep reading!
This is the Best STEM Challenge for Grades 3-5 for many reasons!
Here’s a quick look:
- Materials are easy to gather, easy to prepare, and inexpensive.
- Students use a blueprint for construction.
- Problem-solving is intense as the precarious structures are built. (Which results in learning!)
- Kids and teachers love this challenge.
Materials are easy-peasy!
Can you use a blueprint?
I always have students sketch their ideas before beginning construction. They automatically do this. I have found, however, that groups rarely stick to the blueprint. As structures are being built kids will quickly alter plans to fix problems that happen. With this challenge, I changed one of the rules!
The rule change simply said,
“Draw a blueprint of your tower and you must use the blueprint for the construction. Improving will take place later.”
So, could they do this? Scroll back and look at the above photos! Yes, they can do it! Their towers match the blueprints very well! I might also add that my students loved the blueprint requirement!
Improve Student Learning with STEM
How do you prevent the leaning of the tower? Well, unless you are making the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you have to do something when the structure begins to lean.This is where students learn! When structures fail, they have to rethink and redesign and improve!
Above you can see a team that added some legs to the front of their tower in the improving step of the engineering design process. Did this help? Was the problem solved?
What was really interesting is how they were able to add another level and more ‘blocks’ on the side to make the structure larger. All because of those two legs propping it all up! Problem-solving in this challenge is amazing!
Why Students (and Teachers) Love This Challenge
This challenge originally used modeling dough instead of marshmallows. Let me just tell you that these two materials work very differently. It changes the challenge into TWO challenges!
- Marshmallows are sticky and very soft. They tend to work immediately, but will begin to allow the structure to sag- slowly.
- Modeling dough is heavy! This makes the tower collapse easily.
Best challenge ever!
More Amazing STEM Challenges Your Students Will LOVE
Click on any of the images below to read about more STEM challenges from other STEM educators.