Simple STEM challenges ignite students’ engagement, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the engineering design process. Just add one per month – and let the thinking begin!
Ms. Sneed Searches for Simple STEM Challenges
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, met with her mentor just before school began. “This year,” said Ms. Sneed, “I want to try one simple STEM challenge each month.”
“The kids would love that,” her mentor, Mrs. Brown, replied. “What will you do?”
“Well, I found this file of ten engineering design activities on Teachers pay Teachers.” She pushed a file folder across the table to Mrs. Brown.
The Engineering Design Process
“I see it begins with the engineering design process:
- First, kids identify a problem with criteria and constraints.
- Second, they can conduct research.
- Then they develop possible solutions and choose one.
- Next, students construct a prototype.
- After that, they test the prototype, using a fair test in engineering.
- Many times, after communicating their results and evaluating, they’ll go back to the drawing board and try again.”
Directions and Student Sheets
“And look at how the activities are laid out. For each one, I have teacher directions and student recording sheets.”
10 Simple STEM Activities
The two teachers looked at the table of contents. “The activities seem doable. Not too many materials. I like the simplicity,” said Mrs. Brown. Ten STEM challenges were listed:
- Tin Foil Boats
- Paper Airplanes
- The Egg Drop
- Spaghetti Tower
- Bell Silencer
- Zipline Challenge
- Candy Catapult 1
- Candy Catapult 2
- Newspaper Table
- Balloon Rocket
“Oh look, you also get a template for designing your own challenge. I like that feature.”
“Once the kids have some design process practice under their belts, they can review with this cut and paste activity.
“And then, thankfully, there’s a test,” added Ms. Sneed.
Ms. Sneed Tries It Out
In September, Ms. Sneed’s class tackled their first STEM challenge: the spaghetti tower. Each group received 20 pieces of spaghetti and 10 large marshmallows.
As her students worked through the process, Ms. Sneed realized that research was vital. After some online searching, groups that understood how to build a strong base built sturdier, taller towers.
Later, she debriefed with Mrs. Brown. “What struck me the most with these activities? My students’ autonomy! They moved through the steps of the simple STEM design challenges independently. They acted like engineers. Heck, they even talked like engineers!”
Mrs. Brown smiled. “It’s great to see you so excited it,” she said.
“Me? You should have seen how excited the kids were! Next year, I’d like to try integrating STEM into my science curriculum. Using the engineering design process is just awesome!”
STEM Challenges Through the Year
As the years rolled by, Ms. Sneed did just what she said. To address her standards, she integrated engineering design activities with science content. When she taught sound, kids built a musical instrument. For force and motion, they designed roller coasters. To better understand waves, they built a wave simulator. As they studied natural disasters, kids learned even more about the design process. They even built hydroponics systems. It seemed that everywhere she looked, Ms. Sneed found opportunities to teach STEM.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.