Give a group of kids the task of stacking cups and see what happens. Go ahead….. I’ll wait.
So, what did they do? They built pyramids or tall stacks racing to make the tallest one- only to find the slightest movement would cause the whole stack to fall! It’s a lot of fun… but how can we turn this into designing and using math skills?
Mean, Median, Mode, and Range
Say that three times fast! Ha! When we tried this challenge many years ago I was really interested in how to keep students engaged, but then I thought it sounded too much like Minute-to-Win-It! Anyway, I decided that adding some measuring and probability to the tasks would have students leaving the lab with ways to remember how to calculate the mean, median, range, and mode of sets of data.
What better way to do this than stacking cups? #right
Could it possibly also have a design element?
So, I set out with just having students create pyramids and then challenges them to try different configurations.
Later, I added the features of calculating mean, median, mode, and range. Kids start with a couple of performance tasks that involve stacking cups, based on task rules.
A Litte Secret for You…
The first time we tried this challenge I used foam cups- because they are really cost efficient.
These cups make spectacular stacks, but there’s one BIG PROBLEM!
The static cling of foam cups will make you crazy. I mean bonkers, out of your mind, nuts! Just when the kids would get a stack ready to measure or count, the next cup would make a bunch under it slide and the whole thing would collapse.
We tried wiping them down with dryer sheets and washing our hands and nothing worked! They did get better after being used for about the second time- so I would suggest using OLD cups! Or even better, try a plastic cup. We used the smallest plastic cups this year and they worked really well!
Is there more to this than just stacking?
Absolutely! The first task has kids work together to stack based on a specific number of cups on the bottom row. They may stack in any arrangement they wish and it is a timed event.
Then it is time for group data. I display a large data table and each team reports how many cups were used in their final arrangement. And then, we calculate the mean, median, range, and mode of that data! #prettycool
Another task has the kids predicting how many cups it will take to reach a specific height.
I made marks on our lab tables to use instead of meter sticks- only in the interest of time! You could have kids make their own marks and add even more measurements to this challenge!
This task has less of the math calculations because the final number of cups for each team is very similar.
So, when does the designing start?
Here you go! This is the most fun part! The last task has kids trying to build a stack, but they have to make it an unusual shape!
The stacks cannot have straight rows of cups and they also have a specific number of cups on the bottom. They work so hard to make their final arrangements different than all the others. But, think about it- tall towers in large cities all have different shapes!
Overall, it’s a really fun activity but has just enough math in it to practice some of your math standards or review them. The kids will work on how to calculate mean, median, mode, and range! And how to stack some cups! This challenge is also a perfect one for Friday afternoon STEM- easy prep and easy cleanup!
Do they remember?
Yes, they do! I usually complete this challenge with fourth graders and for the rest of the year and into their fifth grade year they will remember how to average and find the other calculations. All I have to do is remind them about stacking cups!
You might also enjoy these blog posts that have math-related tasks!
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