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Pencils Projects- A Unique Back to School STEM Activity

Three amazing STEM Challenges featuring pencils as a building material. These activities have been added to our list of favorites!

Are you ready for this? Brace yourselves! What would you do with ten tons of pencils at the beginning of the school year? We built stuff. Don’t worry- the pencils were not wasted! It’s the great Pencil Challenge extravaganza!

STEM Challenge – These 3 projects use unique building materials- pencils! Perfect for back-to-school time. Reuse the pencils later!

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Pencils Make Great Building Tools!

One year I found myself with a huge stash of brand new pencils. Classroom teachers added pencils and straws to student supply lists and we had so many boxes of both. Naturally, we used the straws (for the remainder of the year). Straws are a staple in the STEM Lab!

But, pencils? Unsharpened pencils look like dowel sticks. That made me start thinking of ways to use those pencils in building projects.

Naturally, we had some rules about the pencils!

  • Pencils could not be broken or sharpened.
  • We avoided damaging the eraser since it would be needed later.
  • Projects required the use of pencils but in a small quantity. The pencils were not the main building material.

What did we build with pencils?

Here’s a fabulous STEM challenge to help ease into STEM at the beginning of a school year! It’s all about school boxes and pencils! This one has an interesting premise and will spark a discussion about why students would need to build a pencil box.
What a unique tower this turned out to be! This STEM Tower challenge will become a favorite of your students. Not only do they design the tower, but it must also have a specific performing part and they must invent the reason for that part of the tower.
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.

Third graders built Pencil Boxes, 4th graders built Twirling Towers, and 5th graders built Drawbridges. We loved these projects and I think your students will too!

Drawbridge Pencil Challenge

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.

Teams used cardboard for the road sections and created a bridge that would open and close.

Most teams used the pencils as supports for the bridge on each end.

A few teams used the pencils in the center of the bridge. As one road section lowered it would rest on the projecting pencils.

These were so fun to see as each team shared their bridge and demonstrated how it opened and closed. I have a fabulous video of one!

Use Pencils to Build a Pencil Box!

Here’s a fabulous STEM challenge to help ease into STEM at the beginning of a school year! It’s all about school boxes and pencils! This one has an interesting premise and will spark a discussion about why students would need to build a pencil box.

This one turned out to be so fun because I added a little twist to it.

Teams must build a closing box with a latch that holds 6 pencils. They must also invent a reason this would be needed. They had such creative ideas!

One team said, “We need an extra box for all the markers that won’t fit in the one mom bought. We invented a new one to save money!”

We added the latch to the box after we found it would pop opened when picked up. This also had some clever inventions- look closely at the latch in the photo.

The Twirling Tower Using Pencils

What a unique tower this turned out to be! This STEM Tower challenge will become a favorite of your students. Not only do they design the tower, but it must also have a specific performing part and they must invent the reason for that part of the tower.

This challenge began as a Pencil Tower but we found it to be too easy. So, I added the twirling part!

And to make it even more challenging I added this: The twirling part must have a function and it must be a reasonable function.

We had several windmills, clocks, a mini golf course display with a golf club, and a window washing crew that needed to wind up to the windows.

No matter which task you try your students will amaze you with their pencil project results. You can also opt to use different materials- dowel sticks or craft sticks!

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STEM Challenge – These 3 projects use unique building materials- pencils! Perfect for back-to-school time. Reuse the pencils later!

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