Easy Set Up for Daily STEM Challenges in your Classroom

Easy Set Up for Daily STEM Challenges in your Classroom

Instead of pulling out my tired spiral review again this year, I've decided instead to finally create something that would incorporate the engineering design process. I've been wanting to dig deeper into NGSS in my classroom for ages and this is the year!

Every year that I've taught, my students' morning work has been a worksheet with Common Core aligned questions. While there is a place for spiral review in the classroom, I've decided to try to go another direction.

Each day, students will arrive, grab a STEM challenge kit, and start a building challenge. It starts easy. Week one, students are asked to build a pyramid. That's it.

 A pyramid built with straws and clay. 

A pyramid built with straws and clay. 

I've created individual kits with building supplies, but they are all a little bit different. Some have cups and index cards, others have popsicle sticks and clothespins.

 One of the kits, with paper cups and index cards.

One of the kits, with paper cups and index cards.

Students complete the same challenge for a full week at a time. The idea is that students can iterate their designs throughout the week, by trying out different materials and different designs. They'll come up with new ideas as they see what their classmates make around them. At the end of the week, they are asked to reflect on which of their designs was best and which material worked best for that week's particular challenge.

 Perhaps clothespins and popsicle sticks will work better for the pyramid?

Perhaps clothespins and popsicle sticks will work better for the pyramid?

I'm a little worried this activity might be too much for our morning routine, since students will be a little more active and excited than my previous morning work. However, I want my students to get excited for learning, especially STEM, and I think this could do the trick. Plus, our district just moved up elementary start times by an hour, so I think this may be just what we need for this new year.

I'll be setting up clear expectations and students will know that this STEM challenge time is a privilege. Hopefully that will be enough to keep us on task and growing our engineering minds! 

I plan for these to be done independently, but I imagine I'll allow for group work on some days, perhaps every Friday or just for special occasions. 

The Nitty Gritty

First, I came up with 36 weeks of challenges. This wasn't easy, because I wanted them to be fun, but also tasks that could realistically be accomplished in 10-15 minutes. I also wanted them to be complicated enough that students could struggle with improving their design over the course of five days. And on top of all that, I didn't want to be pulling out new and different supplies every week. I wanted challenges where we could more or less use the same supplies from week to week.

I set up 24 kits with supplies. Each has materials that I believe can work with any of the 36 weekly challenges. (Some materials will be added later on in the year as the challenges get more complicated.)

I tried to keep supplies inexpensive and [somewhat] reusable. The main items are mostly things like toothpicks, popsicle sticks, cups, straws, clothespins, PlayDoh, etc. I've also been keeping my eye out for used building toys like Legos and K'Nex.

knex kit.jpg

If you want to get started on doing something similar without doing as much of the work, check out my 36 weekly STEM challenges on Teachers Pay Teachers! 

Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions! 

Kayla

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