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10 Must-Try STEM Challenges

I have some favorite challenges for many reasons. Students have their favorites- which are always different than mine. And then, there are the challenges you must try.

I’m sharing 10 Must-Try Challenges today and will explain why for each.

Ten Must-Try STEM Challenges featured on this blog post. Reasons that each is a great challenge are included along with tips for use!

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There is a back-story with the invention of some of these challenges. Some have experiments you will love. Some have a great science lesson involved. Some are just fun to watch. Hang on- let’s take a look at some must-try STEM challenges you have to tackle soon!

Here’s another fantastic real-life must-try STEM challenge featuring a Hammock! This one is just pure fun (and challenging!) Students must build a model of a hammock. There are two versions of this challenge provided. Both are challenging and full of problem-solving!
Need a real-life STEM engineering task? How about creating a model of a robotic hand? Have a quick discussion about how the hand works and then design a model. This is a must-try STEM challenge.

Building a Hammock – The first time we tried this challenge students used the legs of their lab stools as the trees from which to hang their hammocks. In the next attempt, I decided to add some difficulty with requiring students to make their trees and the hammock. This turned out to be the perfect additional requirement. Attaching the hammock to their cylindrical trees proved to be challenging. We also loved the colorful hammock beds. TIP: We used paper towel cardboard tubes for our trees.

Robotic Hands – I love this challenge so much! The science lesson that you can include is all about how the muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together. Using this knowledge students can relate so much easier to how to make their robotic hands move. We have tried these models using plastic gloves stuffed with tissue and flexible cardboard. TIP: Use those neon straws- it makes a vivid model.

Here’s a must-try STEM challenge to use at the end of your study of Animal Adaptations. Students will build a three-dimensional model of an animal of their choice and showcase its adaptation. This is a great learning experience for everyone.
STEM and reading is a perfect combination. This is a fabulous must-try STEM challenge inspired by a pirate book. Students will be building a treasure box to hold any treasure of your choice. The rules of the task are daunting- as daunting as a pirate!

Animal Adaptations – I love this one because of the creativity students can add to their models as they decorate. Before they get to that point they must design and build an animal model that shows its adaptation. During our sharing time, the students must explain the adaptation and show it working. I love using challenges like this when the students teach us what they have learned! TIP: You are going to need some feathers – buy them at the Dollar Tree!

Treasure Boxes – Another one you must try! I always start with a talk about pirates or share a picture book about pirates. The requirements of the challenge can be changed to suit the age of your students. For my oldest teams, I required that the top of the treasure box have a hinging lid and the lid has to be rounded. This proves to be a great problem to solve! TIP: Have some ‘treasure’ ready to go in the boxes or have students make their own.

It’s the Popcorn STEM Challenge! This is one of my absolute favorites to use as an exploration into volume. It is a must-try STEM challenge!
Here’s another amazing must-try STEM challenge based on a real life application! It’s a fabulous building event involving dropping fragile cargo! Your students will love the real aspect and scenario of this challenge and they will cheer loudly when their structures work! You will, too!

Popcorn Challenge– I always call this the popcorn challenge but it is really a challenge about volume. Students are to build a container that will perfectly hold a specific amount of popcorn. They learn a lot about how items fill a space and have ‘aha’ moments when we test their containers. TIP: Pop the popcorn and use it fresh. Old popcorn breaks apart easier. You will have to count the pieces but it only takes five minutes!

Cargo Drops– I love the backstory of this one. I was watching an old news report about the tsunami of 2004 and saw planes dropping water bottle packages to stranded survivors. It made me wonder if we could build something similar. The task is to build a container that will hold cargo safely and the cargo is also fragile. This means it must be secured so it will not bounce around. The one in that photo above is the reason this challenge is amazing. The single piece of cardboard on the bottom will land flat every time it is dropped. The cargo is suspended and wrapped in bubble wrap and stays secure! Awesome! TIP: Use something lightweight for the cargo- we use marshmallows.

Basketball Goals! The most fun challenge ever in the STEM lab- definitely a must-try STEM challenge! This challenge is perfect for fall sports but don't forget the great basketball tournament in March! Your students will love competing in this Basketball STEM Challenge!
If you are ready for a highly engaging STEM project, this Airplane Challenge is for you! You know kids love to throw paper airplanes so take advantage of that energy with this STEM activity! This is a must-try STEM Challenge!

Basketball Goals– The task is to build a goal with a netted backboard and a catapulting device to shoot the basketball. We use ping pong balls. This is a must-try because students love it so much! They will have the best time building and trying these devices and they will beg to do it again. Trust me! TIP: Buy ping pong balls at the Dollar Tree! I buy netting by the yard at Hobby Lobby and one yard is enough for several classes to use.

Paper Airplanes – So much fun and that is one of the reasons it is a must-try STEM Challenge! It starts with a free session of just flying any plane the students build. Then we learn to build a plane all following the same pattern. We experiment with those planes- plain plane, weighted plane, bent wings, etc. The test results of the experiment are used to inform the designing of the ultimate paper plane. And, of course, we end with a plane flying competition. TIP: We measure flights in meters/centimeters. These numbers are easier to average.

If you have limited supplies can you still build a tower? Yes, you can! This is a must-try STEM Challenge! Using only two materials students are challenged to build a very tall tower. This resource also has a bonus challenge included!
How tall can you stack 100 cups? Can you calculate the mean, median, mode, and range with your data? This is a perfect must-try STEM challenge to practice these math skills and increase the level of teamwork with your students.

12 Straws Towers – So interesting! We have tried this one in two different ways. One version is to just build the tallest tower using 12 straws. The towers tend to look very much alike- since 12 straws cannot be varied much. The second version is my favorite and will be yours, too. Students must choose a famous tower structure (they are given 4 from which to choose) and they build a model of the tower. This changes everything about the challenge. The towers are small and so creative. The photo is showing the Leaning Tower of Pisa! TIP: A choice between 4 towers to attempt is a good number. When faced with choosing anything they want, this task is more difficult. Having a team agree on one tower out of four is the best way.

Cup Stacking – It’s all about math! Some of the cup stacking tasks are just fun, but after each stacking event, we calculate the mean, median, mode, and range of the cups we used or the height our stacks reached. Many 4th and 5th graders will know those math terms but practicing how to use those skills adds a practical application. TIP: Foam cups can have static cling badly. Paper or plastic cups are better, but cost more. The best cups I have used were the 3-ounce plastic ones. And we reuse them!

I am so excited for you to tackle one of these must-try STEM Challenges! Which one will you try first?

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