September 29, 2016

Halloween STEM Challenge: Treat Toss

Halloween STEM Challenge: Treat Toss is an engaging, collaborative, hands-on activity in which students design a device to toss candy to trick-or-treaters at a distance.

I'm so, so sorry ... I just checked the calendar. I have to inform you that Halloween falls on a Monday this year.  Let's stop here, so we can observe a moment of silence.

OK, let's be realistic: to achieve actual learning on Halloween and the day after Halloween, you're going to have to shake things up. This calls for a hands-on, ultra-engaging activity! Wouldn't you know it, I've got just the thing: Treat Toss! 


Mr. Jones is sick. He wants to give candy to trick-or-treaters, but doesn't want to get them sick. He needs a device to allow him to toss the treats to the kids. In partners or groups, students design and build a device to help Mr. Jones toss candy to trick-or-treaters.

Halloween Ban?

If you aren't technically allowed to conduct Halloween activities in your classroom, not to worry! Connect this challenge with levers and other simple machines. There's no proprietary link between Halloween and candy. You can always find ways around a Halloween ban!

Where Can I Find Out More?

Want to know more about materials and how to modify the challenge for your kids? See the video below for a walk-through of all that and more. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

Are There Others Like This?

Have we met?! Of course there are others! This is one of five Halloween challenges. Starting Sept. 8, I'll be posting one Halloween STEM challenge video every Thursday to my YouTube channel.

Until then, you'll find the Halloween bundle briefly described in this post

All challenges are available individually and in discounted bundles in my TpT store, as well.

Video Transcription

Hi. Can you believe it's already week four of the Halloween STEM challenges? Today we're going to be talking about Treat Toss. The initial premise was this was built around a fictional character named Mr. Jones. He gets sick at Halloween but he wants to make sure that he's able to give the Halloween treats to the trick-or-treaters without getting them sick, so he builds a treat toss.

One of the great things about this is, even if you're not allowed to do Halloween activities, this is just tossing candy and that's good for any time of the year. Let's take a quick look at materials and the STEM challenge cycle.

This is the STEM challenge cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video. You can click on the title now to see the cycle explained.

One of the most important things for set up here is to make sure your students are aware of your safety expectations. You are gonna be launching candy, so you want to make sure that you're doing that as safely as you can. One thing you can do is make sure students know when it is okay to test and when it is not okay to test. Which direction they're allowed to test forward and that sort of thing. Students can take their inspiration from slingshots, catapults, trebuchets. If you have younger students, then they probably aren't quite ready for this level of design. That's perfectly okay. Most second graders will be okay with a slingshot or just a very simple lever.

I've actually done this with first graders before, but in order to modify it, I just sort of showed them the basic layout, that if you put two Popsicle sticks together and you put a marker or something in between them to act as a fulcrum, then you'll be able to build a launcher. Now, usually we don't want to be that directive with students, but even the second graders might need a little bit of help there. You don't need to worry because even just showing them that basic setup, where they place the fulcrum, what they use as the fulcrum, what they end up building as a little candy basket will vary the designs quite a bit.

In addition to setting your safety expectations, ahead of time you're going to need to make basically two choices. What kind of candy are you going to be testing and are you going to be testing for just distance or accuracy or both? As far as the candy goes, I like to have a variety, but you can choose to just have one type. Candy corns and candy pumpkins are great. I've also used Hershey's kisses, mini Twix bars, that kind of thing. Having a variety of candy gives you a couple of different options. One is to allow students to test the different candies, determine which one works best with their design and then use just that one type of candy for their final results and measurements.

The second option it gives you is a way to make it a little bit more challenging to increase the difficulty. You can require that students test each and every one of the candies and that their design has to work with each and every one of the candies.

Shall we give them a try? I think that one hit the ceiling. According to the criteria and constraints, this design is actually not complete yet because we want a design that doesn't require Mr. Jones to touch the candy because he would then transmit his germs to the trick-or-treaters. But if we built a little candy basket or something there, then we could test it like so. Actually, I can move my finger away and it might work. Oh, not bad.

So this one is a slingshot design. You might decide that you want to disallow slingshots if you're very worried about students aiming at each other, but again if you set up your safety expectations, it shouldn't be an issue. I'm so tempted to aim this toward the camera to try to get an incredible shot, but I just barely have enough good judgment not to do that. So I'm gonna go ahead and aim it this way. Oh. That was a pretty good shot. This one is obviously a natural fit for following up with studying levers and other simple machines. If you want to find out more, this is available as a resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and it includes extra modifications, student handouts, cross curricular connections and more, so check it out.

There never seems to be enough time to do all the things you'd like to do. I've got you covered with this challenge resource. It contains everything you need including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course, but the hard parts are already done.

You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards for grades two through eight, links to my STEM challenge professional development videos to help you get the most from each challenge and the Treat Toss Materials list. In Teacher Tips, you'll find premise and set up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions which will be especially helpful if you need to prove this is not just a Halloween activity.

You'll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students and treat toss targets if you choose to test for accuracy. 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 data gathering handouts and a set of group discussion questions. Also included is a non-Halloween version of the handouts that you can use anytime of the year.

In the Extension Handouts, you'll find math extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Halloween and Mega STEM Challenge bundles which can be found in the description below the video.

Hope you enjoyed learning about treat toss. It really is good for any time of the year. Make sure you like and subscribe. Next week, we have our conclusion of the Halloween STEM Challenges. It's week five of five, ghosts in the graveyard. See ya next time!

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