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The Versatile Elevator Challenge & Ways to Add Rigor

Changing the rules of a STEM Challenge is a perfect way to adapt to your classroom. The Elevator Activity is a great example.

There is always a back story to the STEM events I create. The Elevator Challenge is a project I changed a lot.

I tend to change the rules of tasks and even the materials sometimes.

And that changes everything. But, guess what! It makes me re-think the challenge, add rigor to it, create a new problem-solving opportunity for students, and it is never boring!

So, hold onto your hats, friends, and leap into the Elevator Project with me!

 STEM Challenge - Design an elevator! The elevator must lift a load by turning a crank. Change the item being lifted to anything in this versatile activity.

The Story

The elevator challenge was invented in the middle of September one year and we tested it during that month.

Now, if you read this space very often you know that I always have a test class. That class is the first to try anything and they help refine the rules of the task and they help me decide if the materials are the right ones.

Students love to be the test class. Even if I change the rules right in the middle of the class, they love it.

The test class loved doing a Halloween project in the middle of September!

And the test class helped make a few revisions to my invention of the elevator challenge, including these:

  • We used two different types of buckets.
  • One bucket meant you also had to build a platform.
  • I insisted we add a cranking device to it.
  • Then we totally changed the building materials.

The Buckets

STEM Activity Design an elevator! Students use simple materials to design and build an elevator that will loft a load by turning a crank. There are many ways to add to this challenge by changing the object being lifted.
My original idea for the bucket that would be used for the elevator ride was a black kettle or cauldron.

Truth: I only thought of that because I found the cute little kettles at the dollar store.

Well, the test class was lucky and they used those black kettles. This turned out to be too easy! All they had to do was tie a string to the handle and lift the kettle.

So, I pulled out a second ‘passenger’ for the elevator. A plastic pumpkin! This changed everything. Wow!

The pumpkins did not have a handle. Students had to build a platform for the lift and organize the strings to pull the platform up.

This STEM Challenge definitely had some added rigor now!

The Platform

STEM Project Design an elevator! Students use simple materials to design and build an elevator that will loft a load by turning a crank. There are many ways to add to this challenge by changing the object being lifted.

Adding that plastic pumpkin (that did not have a handle) meant the students had to design and build a platform that the pumpkin could sit on to ride to the top of the elevator.

The added rules to the elevator challenge made it engaging. Students love to solve problems!

The Materials

This also meant we had to add to the materials. We added straws and craft sticks and students started building the pumpkin passenger device.

This turned out to be interesting. A flat platform worked only if the strings holding it in the elevator were spaced correctly. Otherwise, the platform would tilt and dump the pumpkin.

Take a look at the photos above. The photo of the pumpkin has a great platform, but the green strings that will be used to pull up the platform are centered. This means the platform will tilt.

So, they built side rails out of straws (bottom right).

But, there’s more! How did we lift the passenger for this elevator?

The Crank

STEM Challenge Design an elevator! Students use simple materials to design and build an elevator that will loft a load by turning a crank. There are many ways to add to this challenge by changing the object being lifted.

My original thinking about the elevator was that students would have a piece of string and invent their own way to use it to lift the passenger.

And, they did. Most of them cut a hole in the top of the elevator shaft box and threaded the string through it. To lift they just pulled the string.

Well, you know what I thought! That was too easy.

So, I changed the rule. The string had to function as part of a cranking device. Again, this changed the challenge a lot.

But, look at those photos. The students made the best cranking devices for this and they worked.

They cranked. The string wound around their device and the elevator lifted!

Can we increase the rigor more?

Use Different Materials

STEM Challenge Design an elevator! Students use simple materials to design and build an elevator that will loft a load by turning a crank. There are many ways to add to this challenge by changing the object being lifted.

Okay, flash forward to a new school year and we attempted this challenge again.

But, I changed the materials drastically! We no longer used a box as the elevator shaft. We just used the tabletop.

Students had cardboard tubes and they had to create a cranking device that would wind up their platform or box from the floor to the top of the table.

This is a versatile STEM Activity!

STEM Project Design an elevator! Students use simple materials to design and build an elevator that will loft a load by turning a crank. There are many ways to add to this challenge by changing the object being lifted.


We tried a little metal bucket, but those buckets were a little bit heavy.

So, we tried building boxes next. That did work better- as long as the box did not tilt and dump out our passengers.

What were our passengers this time?

Well, this was in April- so we tried plastic eggs.

The most fun part of this new version of the elevator challenge was watching all of the different ways students used the same supplies to create an elevator that would lift their eggs. 


Try this fabulous challenge and don’t be afraid to alter the rules to suit your students. When I see the task is too easy- I change the rules. When students are struggling, I change materials or the rules.

related holiday articles:

 STEM Challenge - Design an elevator! The elevator must lift a load by turning a crank. Change the item being lifted to anything in this versatile activity.

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!

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