Grab your Free Guide - 3 sTEps to stem success

Some Truth & Some Spaghetti (A STEM Challenge Idea)

I was just updating some old images and found some shots of a challenge that we first tried a number of years ago. The photos were from a recent use of the challenge but I started thinking about that first time… and that brings me to tell you some…



about that spaghetti. This STEM Challenge idea turned out to be perfect!

STEM Challenge- Humorous look at how we started making the spaghetti challenge an annual event. This is a great challenge for all ages!

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Here is the truth first…

During that first year in the STEM lab I had to miss two days of school for workshops. I left a fabulous (horrible) experiment with my sub that involved GUMMY BEARS!

I thought it was GREAT! My sub told me she had fun. The kids I talked to seemed to like it. I even wrote about it on this blog and proclaimed it wonderful enough to create a TpT packet for it. #nothappening

THEN I tried it with students myself.

Are you kidding me? It was a HUGE amount of preparation, the room smelled truly awful- sweetness and vinegar, yuck!- and worst of all it did practically NOTHING scientifically. It all sounded good on paper but did not prove to be.

Seriously, we used the scientific method and that is about it. We used forceps so that was a little bit science-based…but in the end, it was not WORTH the prep it took to make all those little cups of saltwater, and vinegar, and baking soda water, and soak the bears overnight. After doing it with TWO classes I had to seriously rethink what I was going to do for the rest of the week!

Ta-Da- The Spaghetti Challenge is born!

Here’s how it works:
Kids get a bag with 20 spaghetti sticks and a few other supplies. They are challenged to build the largest tower possible with those supplies with one item that must be on the top!

OK, I knew this was going to be fun, but ya’ll it is one of THE best things we have done all year. I paid $12 to buy all those blasted Gummy Bears only to discover that a box of spaghetti and Wal- Mart brand jumbo marshmallows worked better! Really!

Lots of groups did this- one tiny strand of spaghetti to make a really tall tower- but it doesn’t support the marshmallow! It was quite a competition to see who could build the tallest one!

Amazingly enough, these are sometimes the tallest towers! It all depends on that base.

Students learn to use cross beams and tie-downs to keep this precarious structure standing!

After we finished with these structures we had the best talk. Why were we successful? Why not? One group said these words, “Well, we built a great tower but then we realized the mass of the marshmallow needed a much sturdier foundation.” What????? Did you hear all that science and design in there?

So, then, I said, “What if you came in tomorrow and had all these supplies again. What would you do?” Oh my, goodness. Well, the room buzzed as they began to plan how they would change the designs based on their epic failures. (We love to use the term epic failure!) Then I added this, “What if you could double one of the supplies and rebuild? What supply would you double?” This is when they started begging to repeat this activity.

And we have done so! I have changed the rules every time. More recently, I had all the supplies ready for class and discovered I had forgotten to buy the marshmallows, so I pulled out a bin of large pom-poms to use instead. Wow! This changed their thinking completely. The pom-pom was lighter in weight than a marshmallow would be, however, the students had to find a way to attach the pom-pom. With marshmallows you just stab them!

This resource now has all the additional ways we have tried the challenge along with the original and fabulous STEM Challenge idea- the Spaghetti Challenge.

AWESOME STUFF people……. and it was a box of spaghetti and a bag of marshmallows. Learning=PRICELESS!

Favorite Books for STEM

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