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Math and STEM – A Perfect Combo

Math and STEM are like peanut butter and jelly, or cornbread and butter, or cats and mice…haha! Seriously, the M in STEM means math. Now, let’s talk about two kinds of math that I find in STEM Challenges!

There is incidental math. For me, this means math that happens naturally. We measure in so many challenges! Those rulers and meter sticks come out for more than drawing straight lines.

Then there is purposeful math. For me, this means the challenge has a math base. Students average, collect data, find geometric shapes, use volume and surface area, and more. Sounds great-but is it easy?

Of course it is! Keep reading!

Ways to make sure you are getting some Math in your STEM projects- tips and resources are featured on this post.

In this post, for your convenience, you may find Amazon Affiliate links to resources. This means that Amazon will pass on small percentages to me with your purchase of items. This will not create extra costs for you at all! It will help me keep this blog running!

Math and STEM Overview

Here’s what I am sharing today:

  • Area and Perimeter
  • Catapults
  • Cup Stacking
  • Designing Ramps
  • Designing Boxes

Area and Perimeter

Math and STEM - If you need a fabulous resource for practicing math skills and combining a STEM Challenge here you go! This one is all about perimeter and area and using those measures to create! Students will design a paper dog run!

This is a favorite of mine and students. First they identify the perimeter and area of shapes and after learning how to do this they must create a dog run.

Now, that sounds so simple, but it is so complicated. The dog run or doghouse is created on paper and it must have a specific area and stay within a minimum perimeter. They draw and re-draw and re-draw!

Then, comes the design challenge.

Students create a 3-D version of their dog run. We use graph paper for this and add our own embellishments to decorate it. This involves creating box shapes by folding the graph paper. Take a look at the photo- even the little doghouse is made of graph paper.

TIP: Students love using graph paper! This resource is perfect for use with shapes, area, and perimeter. Have plenty of spare paper on hand and consider creating some larger sizes.


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!

The math combined with STEM in this challenge is amazing. Students create different angles with the catapults and experiment.

They keep data tables of the distances created by the different angles.

Each angle is tested five times and students average those distances. They are looking for the best angles for distance and height.

Then we use that data to make decisions for the class competitions.

Students create versions of the catapults for competitions for the longest flights and for going over tall objects. Their data must be accurate.

TIP: How do they measure the distances? We use our floor tiles! The tiles are 12 inch squares. So spotters watch the pom-poms and spot the landing. They count the squares, multiply by 12, and measure the small distances with rulers.

Cup Stacking

How tall can you stack 100 cups? Can you calculate the mean, median, mode, and range with your data? This is a perfect and fun challenge to practice these math skills and increase the level of teamwork with your students.

Let’s talk about the math and STEM in this challenge! Oh, my!

After collecting data, students determine the mean, median, range, and mode of the numbers! What? That’s right.

How do we do this? Okay, each team starts with a stack of cups. At my signal, the teams build the tallest tower they can. After one minute, I measure the towers and we place that data on a class chart.

Then every team takes the data (for the entire class) and calculates the average height, the median height, the mode, and the range of heights.

This is so fun! Especially, when a team has a really tall structure that falls over at the last possible second! We change the rules for each task and build strucutres with different shapes. The design portion is near the end of the event. Students are challenged to build a structure that has a different shape. Notice the round shape in the photo!

TIP: Use plastic cups! Foam cups can have static which makes stacking them challenging. Also, use calculators. That makes this challenge about the calculations and not on students’ ability to add or subtract by hand. Let’s face it- calculators make it easy, but you still have to use them correctly!

Designing Ramps

Math and STEM - Experiment with using ramps and Newton’s Second Law of Motion and then build your own ramp in this fabulous STEM Challenge! Kids love this one! This is more than a STEM Challenge! Students experiment with ramps and then use their data to design and build their own ramp. Can they use that data to their benefit?

Another experiment and design challenge- with some math, of course!

This is a challenge I have used with third graders. The idea is that they will experiment with ramps placed at different angles to determine the best angle for transporting a small car.

The first time I tried this we tried whacking the cars with meter sticks to propel them on the floor. I thought this would let us know how much force was needed to make the car roll the best.

Yea, well, that did not work! So we starting letting the ramps propel the cars. And that worked great! We changed the angles of the roadways by just taping them to our lab tables at different heights. The higher the ramp was the steeper it was. Students kept data tables showing how far the cars rolled before stopping. Their goal was to find the angle (height) that gave them the greatest consistent distance.

Then we designed our own ramps. Students could design their roadways in any style and then we demonstrated. Most of the third graders were very concerned about having side rails on their ramps! They didn’t want their little cars rolling off the sides.

TIP: All the cars used by students really need to be the same kind of car. The first class that tried this had a different car for each team. Some of the cars rolled better than others- so I went back to the dollar store and found enough of the same kind!

Designing Boxes- The Ultimate Math and STEM Project!

Math and STEM - Students will use cereal boxes and have great discussions about the appearance of the boxes, as well as how much a box contains. They will learn about volume and surface area through weighing and measurement tasks. Finally, they will take all the things they have learned and design a box

My favorite challenge of all time! Really!

First, we investigate volume. We look at many different sizes of cereal boxes and find the volume of each. We also do a study of marketing and creating box designs that are visually appealing.

The challenge is to create a cereal box with the greatest volume possible… but…

…every team has the same size piece of poster board. Doesn’t that mean all the boxes will be the same? Absolutely not! The volume, using that static surface area, will be very different depending on how the box is cut and folded. Ideally, a square box will give the largest volume- but I don’t tell students this!

The most fun part of this challenge is the marketing of the cereal. Students must design the packaging and then create a commercial ad for it. This challenge is so fun! And so full of math!

These are all challenges that have math and STEM in the perfect combination. The point of each challenge is to use math to inform your design. So fun! Which one will you try? Click on any of the images to see more details.

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Ways to make sure you are getting some Math in your STEM projects- tips and resources are featured on this post.
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