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A Few Things I learned from First Graders

After a few years with upper elementary grades, I found myself in the midst of a new adventure – first grade STEM! Oh, my! Let’s just say this is a tad scary…..But, a few surprises came my way during the first days with the very smallest engineers.

It all started when we built bridges!

STEM Challenges and First Graders! This post will encourage you to try first grade STEM Challenges with first graders as I describe the things the smallest engineers taught me. They love STEM and approach tasks with their own unique style.

I really wanted to dive right in with a STEM building event because I knew these little engineers would not sit still and listen for as long as my big kids. So, we watched a “Crash Course” video about Engineers which included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. This gave us a good way to talk about bridges and then kids went to their tables.

Each student had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, “Build a bridge.” I did not tell them each one of them should build the bridge, but that is what they did (and it’s what I expected.)

Here are the things I didn’t expect from First Grade STEM!

First-grade engineers and their unique approach to STEM Challenges! This post has all the details!

After each student built their individual bridges and we shared them. The photo to the left is one students bridge.

I then asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge.

Some groups actually cheered when they discovered they would be able to join the materials!

First-grade STEM! Your little engineers have a unique approach to STEM Challenges! This post has all the details!

Look at this photo. This group actually talked about what jobs each would have.

 “You be the snapper and I will be road layer, and then Carlie can straighten it when it gets crooked.” 

It was fairly amazing to see the kids work together and talk about what they were doing! 

Keep in mind, I allowed them to EACH build a bridge first and then build one big bridge. This is something to think about as you move forward. This age group seems intent on building their own structure. I learned to allow this for a few minutes and then create the instructions for building a group structure.

Could they use the materials effectively?

First-grade engineers and their unique approach to STEM Challenges! This post has all the details!

Another unexpected thing! I had no idea if they could build a bridge with those wonky materials, but just look at this photo.

Another thing, you would think that all their bridges would look alike, since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge! It’s the top left bridge in the photo- the boat is going under it!)

They added details (like ramps)!

First-grade STEM and its unique  Challenges! This post has all the details!

Speaking of ramps! Yes, there were some groups that made ramps because, 

“You have to drive up on the bridge!” 

There were some kids that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide. Some even had ramps right in the middle of their bridges and when students pointed out that the ramps in the middle would lead straight into the water I heard this, “Well, you know, bridges don’t have to be over water!”

Total fun!

First-grade engineers and their unique approach to STEM Challenges! This post has all the details!

Some kids wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what kids did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place.

Y’all these are first graders! I thought that was really clever!

And I noticed something that was incredible- given the ages of these little engineers…

Total engagement!

I knew this! I have STEM with upper grades and they are always almost 100% engaged with tasks. The little engineers were, too! They talked about the task, they solved problems when things would not stay in place, and they rebuilt when structures got knocked down. They were fabulous!

This was the easiest little opening challenge and the first graders taught me a lot! I taught them what the word precarious means! (As in Don’t Bump the Table!)

You might also enjoy these blog posts about Reading and first or second Graders:

STEM Challenges and First Graders! This post will encourage you to try STEM Challenges with first graders as I describe the things the smallest engineers taught me. They love STEM and approach tasks with their own unique style.