May 4, 2016

Summer STEM Challenge Events

Testing is over and as the school year draws to a close, it can be so difficult to keep kids engaged in ANYTHING, let alone meaningful and rigorous lessons/activities!  You don't want to waste instructional time, but you're a little burned out from fighting the good fight all year long!  We have all been there. Every. Single. Year.

Solution: End the school year joyfully AND academically with summer STEM Challenges! They're collaborative, hands-on, brain-busting work (disguised as fun)!

Watch this brief video overview of the challenges, and what comes with the resource. Note: You can make do without the resource; read on for details.  :)

As you scroll through this post, you'll find a brief overview and photos of each challenge; more details can be found by clicking on the challenge titles.  I'm in the process of filming video walk-throughs for each challenge, which I will include on their own individual blog posts. You can find the linked schedule for when these will post below. 

Video Walk-Throughs Include:

* An overview of how to conduct the challenge, including was to make the challenges more spring-based than Easter-based, if desired

* Basic criteria & constraints

* Ways to make the challenge easier or harder for your students

* How to extend with cross-curricular lessons/activities

* Demonstrations & examples

* Materials tips & more! 

5 summer STEM Challenges - finish the school year strong with collaborative, hands-on, brain-busting work (disguised as fun)! Modifications included for grades 2 - 8.Blog/Vlog Schedule:
Drippin' Dash: posted
Pick & Pack: posted
Keep it Cool / Make it Melt: posted
Wicked Fast Water Slide: posted
Amphibious Phone: posted

Make sure you pin the image at the left so you can easily make your way back to check for videos on their post dates!

As always, materials for all challenges were procured at the Dollar Tree except a large box of craft sticks (Michael’s) and candy (Target).

Each challenge will takes about an 60-90 minutes, depending on your students' age and experience with STEM challenges. You might also choose to  do some post-design extensions, which are not accounted for in this estimate. 

I recommend one challenge per day or week leading up to summer break, or even all challenges in one day-long 5-event pentathlon!  A reminder: STEM challenges are always most beneficial when done in multiple iterations, but they can be treated as one-off activities as well.  

Challenge 1: Pick & Pack

Basic Premise: Individually or in partners, students will select items to pack for a road trip. In this 2-D simulation of a 3-D task, students arrange items with different point values into pre-defined car trunk spaces. They can’t have it all, though! They’ll use a criteria & constraints list to bring all of what they need and some of what they want, as they aim for the highest point value.

Four trunk shapes included. Use one or use them all &
pack the trunk as efficiently as possible.

Special notes: This one is deceptively simple, but there are many ways to amp it up. For example, require the perimeter to be comprised of alternating prime and composite number items or entirely of powers of two -- that's just the beginning of what this challenge has to offer!  Also note, this challenge focuses hard on the "M" in STEM! 

Challenge 2: Amphibious Phone

Basic Premise: Individually or in partners/groups, students will design and build a summer-proof* case for a smart phone. (No actual smart phones will be harmed in this activity; they’ll create weighted test phones!)

*Summer-proof = waterproof & retrievable when dropped in a body of water

It's not necessary, but it adds to the fun if you find some smart phone
clip art to use. Phone cut outs are included in my resource.

Special notes: This one is very challenging! Waterproofing is tough! It's not for the faint of heart! Remember: productive failure is an important goal of STEM challenges. The first iteration may not go well, but give it a second shot and let your students amaze you! Ideas to make the challenge easier will be included in the video walk through. 

Basic Premise: In partners or groups, students will design and build two devices: one to slow the melting process (Keep it Cool) and one to speed it up (Make it Melt).

You can use anything that melts, but I prefer using Hershey's bars because
there are many subtle, observable changes for students to record.

Special notes: This is one of my favorites, but it incorporates observation, which can be time consuming. My recommendation is to have students run the Drippin' Dash Relay Race in between observation intervals! See below! 

Challenge 4: Drippin’ Dash

Basic Premise: Individually or in partners/groups, students will design and build a water scoop purpose-built for volume and stability to be used in a relay race: The Drippin’ Dash.

If students work in groups, it is recommended that they make at least two designs so they have a back up available if one fails during the race.

Special notes: I usually ask partners/groups to produce more than one design in the given time frame. I let them choose which one(s) to use in the race. There are a few options for running the race included in my product, but you can make up your own rules as you see fit.  One thing I recommend is that the students bring back-up designs with them to the race to sub-out for another that might break mid-race.

Basic Premise:
In partners/groups, students will design and build a water slide built for speed, thrills, and safety.


Special notes: Who doesn't love a good water slide?!  Everyone focuses on height, twists, and turns! Younger students focus on safety (the beads don't fly off the slide); older kids focus on safety & max speed!  Pro-tip: add a little blue food coloring to the water!

Stem Basics (applies to EVERY STEM Challenge):

 Give the students a list of criteria and constraints to guide their designs.
 Post-build, students test their designs and record and share results.
 If desired, give time for related research and extension activities.
 Provide time for a second iteration for students to apply learnings.

Just by viewing the information above, you can pick up the simple materials illustrated and run the challenges with just a bit of prep time on your part. (Pick & Pack will require extra prep. on your part if you don't own the resource, because you'll need to prepare a summer clip art library with point values.)

Alternatively, you can save yourself time and energy (and use it to head over to your local dollar store!) by picking up the prepared challenge lessons for grades 2 - 8, which include: 

  • NGSS standards
  • Teacher notes/guide
  • Criteria & Constraints Lists (editable)
  • Modifications to increase the difficulty for older students
  • Data recording & analysis handouts (two sets for younger/older students)
  • Extension ideas, bonus handouts, and more!

For more details, or to purchase the activity set with modifications, handouts, and more, click the image.

Check out these other great ideas from some of my favorite bloggers!