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Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

Bucket Towers- a Must-Try STEM Challenge

Bucket Towers is an original STEM Challenge for upper elementary classes and it is a student favorite. You will love the easy prep!

This is hard to believe, but some of our best STEM Challenges have been created accidentally.  The STEM Bucket Tower challenge is one of those!

Building boats was another total spur-of-the-moment challenge. I literally came to school one morning and started going through cabinets to pull out materials I thought kids would want to use to build a boat. They loved this activity so much and it’s still one of our favorites.  

Bucket Towers is another great example of an “accidental” challenge.

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Activity- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

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How was this accidental?

Great question! We have built a lot of different towers in the STEM Lab- spaghetti, index cards, toothpicks, straws, foil, and more! The straw tower activity prompted me to start thinking about a new tower.

I wanted a challenge that used straws because I had about 5000 straws in a cabinet. That’s a great story and I wrote a blog post about it! It’s linked at the end of this post.

Anyway, I knew we would use straws, but what would make this a different tower….hmmmm?

What if something had to be suspended within the tower?

Bucket Towers- an Original Challenge

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Project- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

Bucket Towers are Born!

Seriously, that is all it took- just thinking about suspending something inside a tower. But, next, I had to decide what that would be.

I started opening cabinets looking for the perfect object that we could hang in or on a tower.

Ping-pong balls sounded great and I thought about the New Year’s Eve ball drop from a tower in New York City. Creating a clock apparatus might work because plenty of towers have clocks on them.

Then I thought about window washing platforms on skyscrapers. That would definitely be something suspended from a tower.  

BAM! What if the object was not a platform, but a bucket? And I had the perfect little buckets. Yes, I know the buckets are just 3-ounce cups, but they don’t weigh very much and it’s easy to punch holes in them.

The basic premise of this challenge is to build the tower and create a logical reason the tower has a bucket in it!

Of course, I also added that the bucket needs to hold weight. Kids learned pretty quickly that a heavy bucket is going to change everything about how the towers work!

Sometimes you need a lot of extra legs!

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Activity- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

Towers did tend to sway or buckle under the weight of the bucket, so kids resorted to adding more and more support legs!

And more! Sometimes they add legs until they run out of straws!

What can you do with a piece of string?

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Activity- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

My students are really good at using a piece of string to anchor towers or structures to the table.  

The tower in the photo uses the string to hold the bucket aloft, and the string is attached to the table supporting the tower.

A clever solution!

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Activity- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

In this photo, the tower is supported by multiple wide-set legs and it remains standing. We called it the “Spider Tower”!

We add weight to the bucket until it is compromised. Sometimes, that little bucket fills up.

Adding the weights one at a time allows students to see what spots on the structure are collapsing. This gives them the information they need to improve their tower.

Have you tried this one yet? 

Bucket Towers is one of our favorite challenges and basically uses a small amount of easily gathered materials.

This is also a perfect time to pull out your saved pieces of straws to be reused! The Bucket Towers are not very tall and those short pieces of straws work perfectly.

Last tip: I have found string at Dollar Tree and you get a surprising amount for a low price!

STEM Challenge Bucket towers Project- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.
STEM Challenge Bucket towers Project- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

Try this original STEM challenge soon! Your students will love and you will, too! Click any of the images to see details.

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STEM Challenge Bucket towers Project- students must create a tower supporting a bucket and create a functional purpose for the bucket.

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