August 19, 2016

Back to School STEM Challenge: Apples A-head

Use this back to school STEM challenge with 2nd - 8th graders as an ice-breaker to build your class community!

I've mentioned before, I hate ice-breakers so much!  I acknowledge they're hard to avoid, but I prefer finding interesting alternatives to interviewing you partner and reporting to the class.

One I think is a lot of fun for back-to-school is Apples A-head -- get-it? A-head! hahahaha! I love a punny title! It's a STEM challenge combined with a relay race. Because I spent most of my ten teaching years in 5th-6th grade (with a few stints in 2nd, 4th, and 7th), I like to incorporate as many subject areas into an activity as I can. Bang for the buck, baby!

Side note - this is why I chose my master's degree program in Design-Based Learning in which we were required to design a year-long curriculum centered around design challenges, incorporating cross-curricular instruction between design iterations and using student designs as the context for learning...whoa! that's a mouthful! That's whole story for another day! Back to our regularly-scheduled post!

As I was saying, in Apples A-head students work against a Criteria & Constraints List in partners/groups to design headwear to balance one or more apples on their heads (more apples = greater difficulty) which will be used to compete in a relay race. 

Does this sound like something right up your alley? I explain more in this video below. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

This one is so much fun! Deceptively simple, with plenty of small tweaks you can make to increase/decrease difficulty -- and plenty of opportunity for cross-curricular connections! 

My favorite (or I should perhaps say least-hated!) ice breakers are the ones where your team has to work together to accomplish a creative or otherwise problem-solving task. This one fits the bill and then some! 

If you do this with your class, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hear about it and/or see pics! You can message me in the comments or email (in the page header, click on the envelope icon on the purple ribbon).

Want to see an example of student designs in action? Check out these blog posts from other teachers who ran the challenge in their classrooms:

Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6

Kathie at Tried & True Teaching Tools

Susie at The Panicked Teacher 

Video Transcription

Welcome to part five of five. It's our last back-to-school STEM challenge. I'm a little sad, but don't worry, I will be back and I will have more for you. Let's go ahead and get started. At every challenge you know I like to start with a reason to do back-to-school challenges in those first weeks of school. So today, I have two reason for you. The first is there is a lot of great conversation that comes out of this, so if you like to have class meetings, a lot of topics will be generated from these challenges, some good, some bad. I had to deal with frustration and how to deal with team members when you aren't getting along. How to decide fairly whose idea to use. All of these are gonna be great fodder for your classroom meetings. And the other reason is students are gonna go home and they are gonna talk about these challenges with their parents and that is going to make it a lot easier for you to request donations of materials for future STEM challenges. Win-win.

As I said before, this is challenge five of five, it is called Apples Ahead. Let's take a closer look at the materials and I'll be right back.

I've discussed the details of the STEM Challenge Cycle in the Apples Aloft video. You can click on the STEM Challenge Cycle title above now and it will take you to that section of Apples Aloft. So, you might be familiar with some of my STEM challenges and I love to combine the STEM challenge with a little bit of PE and this is one such challenge. The students are going to be making an apple balancing device so they can wear on their heads and they can use it to compete in a relay race. It has elements of STEM, elements of PE, and elements of strategy involved.

Again, we are going to plan for 90 minutes in order to complete this STEM challenge and that does include the actual running the relay race. And one of the things that you wanna keep in mind is that each student and team should make his or her own head wear that way they don't have to transfer the head wear and you don't have to worry about having lice fiasco during the first couple weeks of school. Nobody wants that.

By now you might be wondering, is she going to wear that the entire time she talks? Yes, she is going to wear this the entire time she talks. One of the things you wanna do for set up is you wanna think about where you can hold the relay race, so make sure you have that in mind and you're gonna need either cones or you can use chairs so that at the far end of the relay course students will have something that they can walk around. And you also want to think about what is the mode of the relay race. Are you having students just walk the course, which is probably recommended and it's hard to go much faster with an apple on your head. But you might want to throw in some obstacles, like, they have to turn around in a circle or they have to hula hoop or squat or jump or whatever. You might wanna throw in some obstacles just for fun.

I recommend making sure that each group has its own timer. I'll let students use their cell phones if they have them for that or if I don't have a stop watch. It just makes it easier on you as the teacher not to have to call out times and figure out who was first and all of that. You wanna be able to have each group know what their own time is because when they do the second iteration which hopefully they will, you don't have to on this one, it's a little bit lighter. But it is fun to see how you can improve your time by improving your designs but also by grouping your team work from your strategy. So, this is a great team-building exercise and it's a lot of fun.

The reason you want to have the students have their timers is rather than determining their success based on, oh, our team came in first place or our team came in third place, it's better to use your time as more concrete. So, the time it takes you to complete the relay course for each race, that way you can compare over time how to improve.

Again, you wanna take a look for your cross-curricular connections and if you wanna save yourself some time and some prep work, take a look at the actual resource.

This resource is going to save you a bunch of time and ensure you get the most out of implementing the challenge. Just a reminder, the grade levels are set second through eighth because the resource contains modifications for grades two through eight. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards for engineering and physical science for grades two through eight. In Teacher Tips, you'll find premise and set up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, directions for running the relay race and measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions including links to videos and articles to help you and your students understand more about Newton's Law of Motion. Please, note although several of my back-to-school challenges explores Newton's Law of Motion, the links to articles, videos, and websites to enrich understanding are unique by challenge. You'll find the materials list as well as a Criteria and Constraints list which is editable so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts, there are two versions. Four-page expanded room for response for younger students and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts you'll find an apple writing and math extension templates as well as process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of a discounted bundle. Links can be found in the description below the video.

I hope that you really enjoyed the back-to-school STEM challenge series. I really enjoy putting seasonal STEM challenges together and if you wanna see more like it, take a look in the links in the description below for my store and you can see the 44 challenges I put together so far, most of which are seasonal but not all. And there is a freebie in there too. Make sure that you like and subscribe. I will be back next week but I'm not telling you with what yet. I'll see you then.

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