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Designing Containers STEM Challenge

Would you like to hear the back-story of this STEM challenge we call Designing Containers? We have to go waaaay back for this story…

So, the first two months of being the STEM Specialist were hard. I had no idea what I was doing! The first challenges for each grade level took 5-6 weeks to complete. And they were….boring. No excitement for this new ‘special’ the students were attending. I had to do something to make this better.

One-day challenges were born from this frustration. The first one I tried was the Spaghetti Challenge. Students came to life during that event. Learning the rules of the task, planning, building, and improving all within 45 minutes. “Yes, please, can we have more like this?”

Next we tried bridges and those were all really amazing, too.

However, the problem I kept running into by this point was all about materials. I really wanted to see what would happen if the materials were more limited and maybe a little wacky.

Ta-da! Designing containers was the answer. One piece of paper, tape, straws, 1 pipe cleaner.

Containers STEM Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight.

Quick Challenges have become our go-to STEM activities.

Quick challenges are easy to prep, require limited and easily gathered materials, and can be completed in one class period. Designing Containers quickly became a favorite.

Containers Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight.

Can you build a box?

This became the first perplexing part of this simple, yet challenging, STEM activity. Can the students create a box with a lid?

Using only one piece of paper.

We have tried construction paper, card stock, and a heavyweight graph paper. Card stock works best but it is hard to fold.

I will bet that there will be at least one student in your class that knows how to make a cube.

The first time I saw this happen was an ‘aha’ moment for many students. One student knew how to draw and create a little cube and it only took moments for this news to travel around the lab. Other teams began to send a ‘scout’ to his table to watch.

I watched and waited to see what would happen. Only a few students complained that this was cheating. Later we had a great talk about how we can learn from one another and use new knowledge to inform our own building design. Is it cheating? Watching someone do something gives you an idea but you still must carry out the task. Inevitably there will be variations that happen. And best of all, everyone leaves knowing how to build a box for the next construction moment.

STEM Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight. Do students know how to fold a cube?

So, how do you build a cube?

The photos on the left are showing you one way. The paper is cut in a plus-sign shape with six boxes. When those boxes are folded inwards they form a box with a wrap-around lid. Place tape along the gaps where the paper meets and you have a little cube.

This will work for a rectangular box, too. Think of a pizza box.

STEM Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight. Students must attach a handle to the container.

Does it have to be a cube?

This Containers STEM challenge does not have a requirement that the box is a cube. That is just one way to do it. Many teams will build a flat rectangular box with a removable lid.

One of the possible requirements of the task is that the lid must hinge open. Teams that build a box in this style will tape the back edges together so the lid stays on the box.

But, it will still pop open when you lift the box with the handle.

STEM Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight. Students must make a latch to hold the lid closed on the container.

How do you keep the lid on?

Students will add a latching mechanism to keep the lid from opening when the box is lifted.

They must also add a handle that will be used to lift the box. We typically use a pipe cleaner and straws with this challenge. Either of these will make a great handle or latch.

Containers Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight. The container is tested with weights to show its strength.

Testing with Weight

Now, the reason we have a handle and a latch is because of the weights. Yes, we add weights to the container to see how well it will work. We only add ten pennies, but even that small amount will make a box collapse if it is not made carefully.

On a happy note, many of the containers students have built held pennies until the box was filled!

This one-day Containers STEM challenge with easy materials is perfect for grades 3-5. Just change the requirements for each grade. The best part is how easy it is to prep for you!

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Containers STEM Challenge- students follow task rules using easy prep materials to make a container that will hold weight.