March 22, 2017

Spring STEM Challenge: Nice Nest

This STEM challenge is perfect for Easter or any time in the spring!  

Spring STEM Challenge: In Nice Nest, design a nest built for maximum capacity! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.


Working against a criteria & constraints list, students create a nest designed for maximum capacity. There are a variety of materials & options described in the video below to make the challenge easier or more difficult.

Where Can I Find Out More?

Rather than write it all down for you to read, wouldn't it be nicer to just sit back and watch? I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Nice Nest. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for Easter & spring (with plans for a few more coming soon)! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. These challenges will all post by April 9, 2017. Each challenge will be linked to the post linked above, so be sure to check back weekly! 

Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram.

You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!

Video Transcription

Hi there. It's finally spring, and that means the start of the spring and Easter STEM challenges. Today we're starting with Nice Nest. Now, students are trying to build a nest for maximum capacity using some unusual materials. Let's check out those 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. I've added a pop-in card to that video here as well as a link in the description.
A couple of notes on materials. If you want the challenge to be difficult, you want the cheapest toilet paper you can find. Go to the 99 cent store or even your school restrooms, probably. If you have younger students and you want it to be a little bit easier, get a higher quality toilet paper because it's going to be more durable and will hold more eggs.

For the yarn in this challenge, I like to give that to students in small strips. I typically use four-inch strips, and I'll give 12 to 24 of those, depending on the age group. But if you have younger students, you're going to want to make those strips a little bit longer, maybe eight to 12 inches, even. Now, you should not be the one cutting these strips up. Instead, give groups a long piece of yarn and then just add in the constraints that they have to cut it up to four-inch strips or six-inch strips.

There are three main criteria in this challenge. The nest must hover above the ground. It's helpful in order to see if the nest is touched down if you have a clear container like this. If you don't have clear containers and you use something like a cereal box or a kleenex box, then you'll want to just cut in a little viewfinder on the side so students can check that. The eggs must be inside the nest. They can't be resting along the edge of the container. And the last main criteria is that the nest must predominantly be made of toilet paper. Now, I give the students the entire roll in order to make that pretty simple.

To make this challenge a little bit more difficult, one thing you can do is make it rain, so test its weather durability by actually pouring water on it. You can weigh down the eggs by adding something inside. Maybe rice or beans is easiest. You could also just use sand, but just be aware that a lot of the eggs have little tiny holes in them, so if you use sand you'll probably have to plug up the hole with some clay or tape. Another thing you can do is either reduce the materials or eliminate them altogether, and in place you'll have the students do a campus walk and they'll collect, from what they can find on the ground, materials in order to make their nest, just like the birds do.

The students are going to test their nests until one of two things happens. Either they can't fit any more eggs in because it has reached maximum capacity, or the nest collapses under the weight. There are a few different ways that you can assign points to the eggs. The first is just to give one point per egg, which works best when the eggs are the same size. In this case, you can see I have some small eggs and some larger eggs, so I could just say, "One point for the small eggs and two points for the large ones." Another thing I could do, if I added weight to the eggs, is to actually weight each egg and count my capacity in terms of the weight. I could also measure the volume of each egg, and in that case I would use a water displacement measurement of volume, since the eggs are an odd shape. For an egg to count, it has to be completely inside the nest. If it's receiving any support from the container, or in this case a binder clip, it would not count.

Once the groups have done their first measurement, if their nests are still hovering above the ground and have not failed yet, then I would consider doing the rain test. You can either use measuring cups or something less precise, like a bathroom cup. Using a small amount, maybe a quarter cup, 50 milliliters, or one bathroom cup, pour the water in a spiral motion over the nest. If none of eggs fall out, repeat until one does. At that point, you're going to cut off the measurement. In that case, groups will have two measurements for the efficiency of their design. The maximum capacity when dry and the amount of water the nest could take before it hit its breaking point.

In order to extend on this, anything about birds is going to work really well. You could look at bird adaptations for the types of food they eat and their environment, especially their beaks and the presence of talons. You can study various animal habitats even outside of birds, so we could just look at a specific animal, or groups like reptiles and fish, mammals, amphibians. We could compare and contrast any of those groups.

We could look at the fact that there are many different types of birds that don't seem really related to each other when you look at them, an ostrich and a penguin, a hummingbird and an eagle, a flamingo and heron. You could assign a different bird to each group, have each group do some quick research, present to the class, and then have the students draw out, what are the unifying factors of birds?

Always have students create work problems based on their designs. Particularly when you have a challenge like this with many different colors and sizes of eggs, it opens itself up to fractions as part of a set, ratios, percentages, and more. If you want to tie in some ELA, try exploring bird and egg idioms.

Now you have everything you need in order to do this challenge in your classroom on your own, but of course I have a lot of extra goodies at the resource, so make sure you check it out.

This time-saving resource 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 rest has been done for you. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Nice Nest Materials list. In teacher tips, you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the criteria and constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list, 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 bird research and idioms logs, as well as math extension and process flow templates.

This resource is available individually and is part of the discounted Easter/Spring and Mega STEM challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video.

Students really love this challenge. I think it's because of the toilet paper. It just makes it kind of silly and fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. Make sure you don't forget to like and subscribe, and come back next week. I'm going to post two videos, Egg Hands and Basket Bounce. Have a great week. I will see you next time.

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