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STEM for One Student

Is STEM for one student even do-able? How will it work? What is the teacher’s part? Can it work vitually?

Oh, my. I know you have questions and I am going to answer the ones I think are uppermost in your mind right now! If you have more questions, please use the comment box at the end of this post.

STEM for One- this post shares tips and ideas to help you get started with STEM during distance and modified learning.

So, I made a list of the things I am apprehensive about and those are the points I addressed as I created my first STEM for One resources. I will let you in on a little secret. I am really good at organizing and writing, thinking, and planning in step-by-step increments. So, that is how I am answering the questions I had about STEM for One. How would it look in my classroom- either a regular third grade (my old grade) or a STEM Lab? How would it look if completed virtually?

So, let’s dive right in with the questions I have and some ideas for you!

STEM for One in a Classroom

How will this work?

Obviously, the classroom in the photo is not social-distancing. But what if your class is?

How can STEM work?

Let’s think about it. Students will be seated all over the classroom.

I would introduce the challenge and have the same discussion that would normally take place- except students do not have teammates to talk to. Instead, we would complete the brainstorming and go over the rules of the task as a large group.

In my resources, a set of student task cards is provided. Each student would need the set of cards and a container with the materials. Each student will write about an idea for the structure and sketch that idea. In a normal STEM Lab, teammates will share ideas and decide on a design.

In this modified classroom I would still share those ideas. Place sketches under your document camera so all students can view them. Let students explain ideas and point out the parts of their sketch they want to share.

Now, they all start to build their version of the structure. If during the building time, I notice someone that is struggling I would bring this to the attention of the class and let classmates explain, demonstrate, or talk through a solution to the problem. This whole group talk time takes the place of talking within a team.

After the structures are completed each student will share their final models. They can hold these up to share or place them on the document camera to project.

My first thought about this working is that it is going to take much longer than a normal STEM Challenge. I would think about completing this in stages- maybe even over a 3-day period.

Let’s answer a couple of questions before moving on to completing STEM virtually.

What about the materials? 

Sharing materials or working closely with teammates may not work with your social-distancing rules. Each student will have his or her own set of task cards and materials. These materials are consumable and can be given to students in a bin, zippered bag, or envelope.

For larger items, like a piece of cardstock, a plastic shoe box-type bin might be necessary or the larger pieces can just be handed to students. If you are sending these packets home, an extra-large envelope would likely work or a gallon-size zippered bag.

As I have worked through the kinds of STEM Challenges that I think will be do-able by one student (obviously some will not) I have also taken the materials into consideration. I have chosen challenges that have a small amount of easily-gathered materials that are consumable. This keeps you from having to sanitize things the students touch.

So, no teamwork? 

Students won’t be able to work closely together, but this doesn’t mean they cannot be part of a team.

The team becomes the whole group in your classroom- whether that is 10 students or 20.

For every part of the challenge, I would stop often and have students share their frustrations and ways they solved a problem. This is perfect for your struggling students and your introverts. These are the students that depend on their teammates as helpers during normal STEM activities. With STEM for One, they have a room of teammates!

Here is another idea? What if you did place students in teams? They cannot sit together to confer and they will each still have to build a structure independently. But, what if they talked – from a distance- and then each shared an idea. The team could adopt one of the ideas and then each student would try to build the structure based on that plan. To be honest, I think this approach would work better virtually. Keep reading!

How will this work virtually?

What if my students are at home? 

The materials and task card packets can be sent home. The resource includes a digital version of the task cards in case you want to deliver the content in that manner.

Just send home the bag of materials and students will use the digital format from Google Classroom and fill in text boxes on the digital task cards. Or you can place the printed task cards in the container with the materials.

Now, here comes the virtual part. Those whole-class discussions and teacher talk time take place in a Zoom-type class meeting. I would handle those discussions the same as the tips for in-school STEM for One. Show forms during the virtual meeting, have students show their sketches, have students talk about problems and discuss solutions, and share those completed structures during class virtual meetings.

What about teams? Again, what if you placed 3-4 students on a team? They could meet via a zoom-type event in which the teacher leads the meeting. Each student shares, they adopt an idea, and then they all build it. Later, they come back to a new meeting to talk about problems and then share their final structures.

It’s not ideal. This is not the way STEM works best. But, I truly believe it would be worse to just give up on STEM. I know how meaningful STEM projects are and I know kids will love these STEM for One modifications.

So, now, let’s look at the resources I have modified thus far! You are going to love this! (Click on the images to see these in my store!)

STEM for one student. Every student builds a structure independently- this one is a famous tower replica.

Towers with 12 Cards

This challenge is to build the tallest tower possible using only 12 cards. The resource has a second version that I included in which students must build a tower that is a replica of a famous tower. Famous tower photos are included.

The materials for this one will easily fit into an envelope or zippered bag. The famous tower version uses tape- I have an amazing tape tip for you at the end of this post!

Bucket Towers

This fun challenge is one of our favorites. The premise is that a tower holds a free-hanging bucket. So, students must build that tower and attach a bucket that will hold weight.

To make it more interesting students must also provide a reasonable explanation of the function of the bucket on the tower.

Build a Pencil Box- STEM for one student during distance learning events or classroom with limitations on sharing of materials.

Pencil Boxes

The scenario is that students need an extra pencil box. Can they build their own?

Using card stock, they must build a box that will hold new pencils. It must have a closing lid and a handle.

The best part of this one is that every student can keep the pencil box they make!

Tape Tip

So, sometimes a challenge has a limit on the masking tape. How are we going to do this with individual material’s packets?

Tear off the length of tape needed and wind it around a craft stick. It will easily slip into your container and students wind off what they need!

I hope you are excited about the possibilities of using STEM for one! Let me know what you think and if there are questions I have not addressed! I’d love to help!

STEM for One- Tips and ideas for creating STEM opportunities while distance learning.


    • Carol Davis says

      For younger students use materials like interlocking cubes or building bricks and keep the challenge simple. Cardboard tubes are great for that age, too. When I had first and second graders I found they had problems with cutting and tearing tape so I tried to have challenges that did not use tape. If you have challenges in mind that seem too hard, just change the rules or provide more for them. Example- for tissue paper parachutes I would give first and second graders a coffee filter. That way they do not have to create the parachute. They just have to attach strings and the cargo. Thanks so much for your question!

  1. Amy Minett says

    Thank you for the ideas! As a first year 5th grade science teacher, I have really struggled with how to incorporate the necessary collaboration that is needed. This article helped give me some ideas. Thanks!

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