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Five Best Challenges (According to the Teacher)

Several years ago I asked students to vote for their favorite STEM Challenges. That turned out to be a great blog post and then I added my two cents with a post about my favorite STEM Challenges.

I will link those challenges for you at the bottom! It is fun to go back and see what we were doing a few years back. In the meantime, we have tried many new challenges and we, of course, have new favorites. And, not surprisingly, some of our new favorites are repeats!

This time I am going first. These are my favorite challenges (for right now!) Come back next week and see what students chose.

A blog post about the favorite challenges of a STEM teacher in elementary school. Five challenges are featured.

In no particular order, here are my current favs!

  • Ski Lift Challenge
  • Seed Dispersal
  • Water Pipelines
  • Ferris Wheels
  • Newton’s Cradles

The Ski Lift Challenge

STEM Challenge- Design a working ski lift chair and the skier. Add some skier decor and try it on a revolving line.

Yes, I know it is summertime and this is a ski lift! I love this challenge so much. Make no mistake- it is challenging. Students must make the little skier and the lift chair. The chair must have a restraining bar that lifts and lowers. Students must also add strings to their chair so that it can be hung on our lift line. I hung a long rope on a pulley system and we use clothespins to attach our chairs. Pull the rope and they move! So fun! (Also, take note of the ski poles this little skier is using!)

Seed Dispersal Challenge

I love, love this one! First, we take a look at several methods of seed dispersal and watch videos about explosion dispersal. Then each group is assigned a method. They must design a model showing the type of seed dispersal they receive. Of course, they all want the explosion method. This photo is showing animal dispersal and the team made a bird that would poop out seeds! Another favorite is the attachment method. Students create an animal (usually a dog) and attach seeds to its fur! Great assessment for their understanding of the methods!

STEM Challenge- students learn about methods of seed dispersal and then build a model of one of the forms.

Water Pipelines

STEM Challenge -Students build a working model of a gravity-fed water pipe system. Will it leak? Can they stop those leaks!

The backstory of this challenge is one of the reasons I love it. Students research how remote villages in Panama use gravity-fed water pipe systems. Then they must design a pipe that will work (pretending they work for a charitable organization that is building pipelines.) They must build a pipeline that is 100 cm long that will transport water from a holding tank to a lower tank- with a minimum of leakage. Oh, my! I love watching them catch those leaks with their hands!

Ferris Wheels

This is a challenge I only use with upper grades because we use hot glue to connect the parts of the Ferris Wheel. This one becomes a test of measurement and getting those angles just right. Ideally, the team needs to connect 6 triangles to make a hexagon. Then they must make an identical set to glue to the first one – with spacers in between. And, to make this even more challenging students must also build the platform that holds the turning wheels aloft. Can you see why this is an upper grade challenge?

STEM Challenge- students build a revolving Ferris Wheel. The task involves geometry and measurement.

Newton’s Cradles

STEM Challenge - students build a working model of a Newton's Cradle. This is for upper elementary and middle school ages.

I love this one and students do too! We talk about Newton’s third law of motion and watch a Newton’s Cradle in action. (I found one at a local craft store.) Then students have the task of making the frame and attaching strings that will hang evenly. We glue beads to marbles and then thread the strings through the beads. If the strings are just right and the correct distance apart this will work! It is so exciting to see a team try over and over to get all those measurements perfect!

There you have it- my current five favorites. Don’t forget to visit next week and see the five favorites are of the students!

Links to previous posts:

A blog post about the favorite challenges of a STEM teacher in elementary school. Five challenges are featured.