STEM building challenges are a great way to incorporate STEM skills into the classroom. Use them to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math in a lesson for the entire class, or use them as early finisher tasks. STEM building challenges are perfect extensions for students who finish work early.
STEM Building Challenges
Hi! I’m Trisha from Inspiration Laboratories. Today I’m sharing with you some easy ways to incorporate STEM into the classroom. (The ideas are also great for at home.) These building challenges are adaptable to a variety of ages. You can use them in preschool through elementary. Preschoolers will most likely need some direction and assistance to get the most out the activities. Elementary students will enjoy these challenges working alone or in groups. Make their tasks more specific and watch their problem solving skills shine.
Build with Newspaper
All you need for this activity is newspaper (or even magazines) and tape. Roll the paper and tape it together. Roll the paper diagonally to get longer building pieces. Roll the paper from the shortest side to get a stronger building piece.
What will your students design? Can you build a pyramid? What about a skyscraper? Can you build a tunnel or an archway? Who can build the tallest tower?
Issue a specific challenge or simply let your students be creative. How much weight can their newspaper structures hold?
Check out these examples of newspaper structure challenges:
- Build the Eiffel Tower Engineering Challenge from Edventures with Kids
- 15 Newspaper Engineering Challenges from The Educators’ Spin On It
- Newspaper Tower – detailed lesson plan from Teach Engineering
Build a Bridge
You can set out materials or you can let your students brainstorm a list of options. This challenge can be as open ended as you like or you can make the challenge specific. For example, challenge your students to build a bridge from craft sticks that can hold ___ amount of weight (or choose an object that you want the bridge to carry). Let them use glue or tape to assemble the bridge.
Check out these bridge building ideas:
- Mama Smiles challenged her kids to build a bridge that can hold a single can of food.
- Build a bridge from a piece of paper. Instructions at Life at the Zoo.
- Test the strength of eggshells by building a bridge. Science Sparks shows us how.
- Design a bridge out of straws, tape, and blocks. The Imagination Tree built one that can hold nearly 10 pounds.
Build a Maze
Designing a maze is a versatile activity. The possibilities for materials are endless. Raid the recycling bin or try materials that can be reused. Here’s a list of suggestions:
- LEGO (regular or DUPLO)
- craft sticks
- cardboard boxes
- cardboard tubes
The size of your materials will determine the size of your maze. What will be navigating the maze? A ball? A car? A robot? A person? This will also help determine the size of your maze.
Here are some example mazes (click on the links to see the details):
- Build a maze with LEGO
- Create a maze with straws (Teach Preschool)
- Make a mini magnet maze (Science Sparks)
More STEM Building Challenges
Here are more STEM building challenges to try. Click on the link to get the details and see the challenges in action.
STEM Stacking Challenge with Erasers – We used flat pumpkin erasers for this challenge. Try it with whatever themed erasers you like. Count the pumpkins as they are stacked. How tall can you stack the erasers before they fall over? Is there a trick to building the eraser tower taller? Measure the tower using a ruler or non-standard measurements.
Log Pile House STEAM Building Challenge – This STEAM challenge was inspired by the Gruffalo. Can you build a log pile house for a snake? We collected sticks and branches for our houses. If possible, go on a nature walk around school and collect some with your students. You can also just use craft sticks or blocks. We built houses with and without play dough to compare the strength of the structures. You could use tape and craft sticks and challenge your students to design a house. Look at pictures of houses to inspire their designs.
Car Target Launch STEM Challenge – Use a car launcher or build a catapult for this challenge. The goal is to land a car or other object on a target. Will constructing a wall help reach your target?
Candy Building Challenge Cards – Designed to be used with square candies, the cards include tasks like building a tower with 5 candies, building a staircase, or making a pattern or shape. Download the cards in black and white or in color.
What are your students’ favorite STEM building challenges? I’d love to hear about them! Come visit the Inspiration Laboratories Facebook page. You’ll find more science activities like these.
Our Favorite S.T.E.M. Books:
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Once your child’s creativity is sparked with this fun activity, take it a step further with these engaging resources:
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