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Craft Sticks and STEM

Craft sticks and STEM go together like peanut butter and jelly- or salt and pepper- or STEM and kids! I realized this early in my STEM adventure and keep a good supply of craft sticks in various sizes. I also buy them in large, affordable quantities!

Stick (pun intended) with this post and I will give you some tips and some resources that rely on the amazing craft stick.

STEM Challenges and craft sticks (popsicle sticks) and tips for using them in projects! It's all on this blog post, along with challenge ideas and resources.

A Few Tips

Just some thoughts for now and a few more will be sprinkled throughout-

  • You do need craft sticks in different sizes. We use narrow and wide sticks that are about 4.5 inches long.
  • Craft sticks are quite versatile- students will find all sorts of ways to use them- connectors, supports, structure bottoms or roofs, placeholders, and for decorating.
  • Craft sticks can be broken or cut into different lengths. Students can easily snap them in half- but I have a rule about this in my lab. Snapped sticks can pop apart and fly or leave splintered ends. I use a wire cutter to snap them into pieces. Students mark the spot they need cut and I snap them!
  • It is very difficult to make a hole in a craft stick. You can possibly make holes in the wider sticks but the narrow ones will break. I usually tell students that we cannot make holes at all. (Yes, they may try anyway and they will try to stab a hole with the point of scissors. That’s why I tell them “no holes”!)
  • Buy large boxes of craft sticks! Don’t buy the small containers at Dollar Tree.
  • Re-use them!!!! We take structures apart and return craft sticks to the supply bin to use again and again and again.
  • Craft sticks can be purchased in many colors. I have used those in challenges, but invariably there will be one popular color and unhappy students that don’t get their favorite color.
  • Craft sticks can also be painted (if you are very brave). It is time-consuming, however, since only one side can be painted at a time.

Let’s check out some resources!

Cargo Drops

Here’s another amazing 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!
Here’s another amazing 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!

The idea in this challenge is for students to build a container that will hold fragile cargo and then drop the container. Before starting this challenge I always show some cargo drop videos so students will know what they are attempting. In the videos, cargo is dropped from low-flying airplanes.

In our challenge we drop the container from a 3-foot height and our fragile cargo is marshmallows. The trick is that the marshmallows cannot move when the container hits the ground.

You can see that one of the teams in the photo used the craft sticks to build a “pen” for the marshmallows. I also love the other photo- the marshmallows are inside the plastic wrap that is hanging. Notice that the craft sticks are used as shock absorbers.

Craft Sticks & Catapults

How far can you launch something with a catapult? Can you hit a target or go over a formidable wall? This STEM Challenge catapult building experience will have your students working together to build a catapult, experiment with different angles, and compete with several performance tasks!
How far can you launch something with a catapult? Can you hit a target or go over a formidable wall? This STEM Challenge catapult building experience will have your students working together to build a catapult, experiment with different angles, and compete with several performance tasks!

Popsicle sticks are a must-have with the catapult challenge. Students experiment with different numbers of sticks to change the angle of the projectile. This data is used to help them with competitive tasks.

TIP: Use the wider sticks for catapults. Students do vigorously press on the sticks and they will snap. You can even see a stick bending in the photo.

Building a Drawbridge

Let's try a drawbridge! Students are building a drawbridge model that opens and closes. We used new pencils as a building material and we have tried dowel sticks. The resource includes details about both!
Let's try a drawbridge! Students are building a drawbridge model that opens and closes. We used new pencils as a building material and we have tried dowel sticks. The resource includes details about both!

This challenge is one of our favorites. It takes bridge building to a new level by adding the necessity of making the bridge span open. We watch a few videos to see different ways a bridge can open and find out why this is needed. Students can choose to build a center opening or a bridge that swivels open.

In the photos you can definitely see the use of popsicle sticks. Many teams will add the sides to the bridge made of sticks and the supports at the ends are usually made with sticks. We have tried this challenge with straws but they are a little flimsy.

TIP: You will also need cardboard- cut up your old Amazon boxes!

Craft Stick Suspension Bridges

Kids love to build bridges! This is one of the best STEM real-life challenges we have tackled! It’s a suspension bridge! The first time we tried this I had kids telling me they had always wanted to build one. I even had students researching suspension bridges with their parents at home to help with their designs! Awesome!
Kids love to build bridges! This is one of the best STEM real-life challenges we have tackled! It’s a suspension bridge! The first time we tried this I had kids telling me they had always wanted to build one. I even had students researching suspension bridges with their parents at home to help with their designs! Awesome!

Years ago I tried this bridge using raw spaghetti. I have seen photos of bridges built this way, but spaghetti and glue… no thank you. We use craft sticks and string.

Almost the entire bridge needs craft sticks! We do have cardboard as the roadway and you must have the string for the suspension part or as use for tie-down supports. These three photos show you very different ways we used craft sticks for this project.

To see more details about these project just click on any of the images. I could easily show you about 50 more projects that rely on popsicle sticks. Instead I will link some blog posts you might like:

STEM Challenges and craft sticks (popsicle sticks) and tips for using them in projects! It's all on this blog post, along with challenge ideas and resources.