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Problem-Solving – The Heart of Stem –

Problem-solving is truly the best part of STEM for me! It’s watching kids “figure things out”.

Problem-solve, rethink, and do it again. Let’s face it! Solving problems is what STEM is all about. Everything the students do leads to solving a problem and then another and then another.  

But, it’s beautiful to watch.  And, always, always, their solutions are way different than my thinking. I say these words often, “Oh, my goodness, I would have never thought of that!”  

Problem-solving is the heart of STEM. Watching students apply collective thinking to make something work is amazing.

So, How Did We Get Here?

Simple answer. The students have a building design to tackle. They research, watch a video, do some reading, and discover new thinking about the structure. This can also be from just talking about the task with each other and the whole group.

Then they find out what their building materials are and they start thinking about how to build the structure using those supplies. They talk, they sketch ideas, they share ideas, and then they choose what to do. Everyone takes on a job in the group.

Time to build! And here is where the major stuff begins. Their ideas don’t work at all, the idea is scrapped and they start again, the second idea doesn’t work. Then what?

Problem-Solving

I could describe problem-solving steps to you endlessly, but I thought it would be easier to show you. So, the photos I have included all have clever little things I have seen students do to make a structure or device work.

In this challenge, students will be using materials to design a rolling car that is wind-powered. They will have to consider the placement of the car’s axle and the size of the wheels in order to make the best car. Problem-solving at its best!

Wind Cars

The task is to build a rolling car that will be propelled by the wind (a fan.)

The absolute hardest part of this task is making the wheels roll.  Kids try so many things! The typical thing I see is they attach the axle to the car and the wheels roll on the ends of the axle. The axle doesn’t move. This can work, but it usually does not. The wheels won’t stand up straight and come off easily.

Now take a look at the photo above. This team inserted a wooden axle through a straw. The straw is attached to the car. The wheels are attached to the ends of the wooden axle and secured with tape. They roll perfectly!  

Secret Thing I Have Seen: As soon as one group solves the problem of the car’s axle in this way, suddenly the other groups will start modifying their car with the same axle and straw device. #win-win

Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.

Rescue Devices

The task in this challenge is to make a turning crank, with a handle, that will safely wind up a bucket. The bucket is rescuing a fallen person. We use a Lego man.

This team has a straw laying atop a plastic disc. The sticky part that should be touching the straw is covered with a piece of paper. (Sorry, you cannot see that.) The straw is held in place because the tape is tight, but it can still turn as the handle is moved. Their handle is a straw piece attached to the end of the long straw.

Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.

In this photo, the team used a dowel stick and attached it to the straw legs. A craft stick handle with a straw on the end makes it turn.

Dowel sticks are an interesting material to use. They come in many sizes and are usually 12 inches long. I do not allow them to be broken and we reuse them all the time. Dowels are a good alternative to straws.

Check below for how the team attached the dowel stick to the straw legs!

Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.

This image is from the Rescue Device pictured above. It’s a close-up of how the team attached the straw and dowel stick. Really clever!

They had to revise that many times to find the perfect size that would let the dowel stick turn. The size of the bent straw was changed until the straw was able to move freely when being wound.

Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.

Here is another device built for the same challenge. This team made the two U-shaped legs and then placed masking tape over the middle of each.

The masking tape ends were stuck together and hanging. They used a hole puncher to make holes through the folded over tape and threaded the dowel stick through it!

Again, I would have never thought of this!

Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.
Students will be designing and creating either a rescue cranking device or a rescue carrier using the same supplies. Each task has its own requirements.  The two groups must work together to solve problems.

The two above are the same rescue device. On the left, the team has used a paper clip to hold the dowel in place and allow it to turn freely.

On the right, a team used a hole puncher to make holes in the straws and then threaded the dowel stick through those holes.

Secret Thing About This One: The crank being able to turn is very similar to a car axle. When a class has already made cars, they do very well with this challenge because they remember what worked with axles. Isn’t it neat that kids learn strategies and use them again!

I Have So Many More Examples…

…that I could share with you, but I think you can see from just this selection that kids are amazing. They think of ways to make things work that make me shake my head. Watching kids solve dilemmas is the number one reason I love STEM! Problem-solving in STEM is the real heart of the program!

Links for you for more posts like this one:

Problem-solving is the heart of STEM. Watching students apply collective thinking to make something work is amazing.