April 25, 2017

Summer STEM Challenge: Pick & Pack

My father was a master at packing the car for a road trip. It was seriously impressive. I created a 2-D version of this perennial 3-D real-life challenge as a tribute to his awesome skills!

Summer STEM Challenge: In Pick & Pack, 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! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.


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. 

This challenge can be super-simple, but also allows you to add layers of complexity to challenge students of all ages.

You'll need trunk templates & summer items to pack.

Where Can I Find Out More?

If you're familiar with my work, you know I've been switching over to using video to explain the bulk of my challenges. It seems to be the best/fastest way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, demonstrations, and more!  Who has time to read all that?! However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

Check out the video below to see Pick & Pack in action:

Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 challenges for summer/the end of the school year! You can find the overview of each on this blog post. Each challenge is described in the post linked above, so be sure to check it out! 

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!


Summer STEM Challenge: In Pick & Pack, 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! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Video Transcription

Hi there, since we last saw each other you are now one week closer to the end of the school year. Don't worry you've got this and if you don't, hopefully I've got something to make it a little bit easier for you. We are now in week two of the summer STEM challenges and this week we are taking a 3D task and giving it a 2D representation with Pick and Pack.

You guessed it, students are getting ready for a road trip and they need to pick and choose the items that they can bring with them that will fit in the trunk of the car. You're probably going to want to do this challenge in partners but before I get too much more ahead of myself, let's take a second to check out the 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.

If you don't own the pick and pack resource, the first thing you're going to want to do is take a trip through your own clip art libraries and mine out some summer, picnic, barbecue, beach type items. Once you've gotten your new clip art collection together you're going to want to assign point values to each item. Then you'll also want to create a few different car trunks shaped templates.

Since this is a 2D representation of a 3D task, there are some things that are not quite perfect and you can let students know that that's just part of the design challenge. Of course we wouldn't keep the beach ball or the raft or the inner tube inflated. We would deflate those and we wouldn't have a towel all unfurled like this taking up that much room and you will just tell your students to let it go. Or maybe you won't because you don't want them to start singing that.

The goal for this challenge is to get the highest point value possible in each trunk while still meeting the criteria and constraints of the challenge. They must bring at least one item for clothing, food, drink, sun protection and fun. You can require that any food or drink item be kept in the upper half of each trunk shape in order to make the food more accessible and prevent it from getting crushed.

All of the items in the trunk must be face up so that you can see their point value. Items may not overlap with each other or go beyond the edge of the trunk perimeter. Of course you can choose to just have the students work with one trunk shape or you can give them several different options and see how they do with each shape.

If you have older students you're definitely going to want to add some difficulty. First thing you can do is tell them they need to plan a road trip that will include obviously two long car rides. Four people will be present and they will be at the beach for the weekend, and then you can start going a little bit crazy with the point values.

You can require say that three items with prime number values are used. An odd numbered item may only be adjacent to one other odd numbered item. You can add a criterion that an item must be adjacent to at least one other it shares a common factor with. A six can be adjacent to a one, two, three or six.

Perhaps every time a perfect square is used, it must be adjacent to its square root. You could add a requirement for items along the perimeter or circumference of each trunk. A few ideas for that would be only evens, only odds, only primes, only composites, alternating evens and odds, or primes and composites. Factors of 12 or powers of 2.

To measure results on this, the students are simply going to add up the point values of everything in the trunk. If your students have access to a digital camera or their phones, I like to let them take photographs as they're trying different configurations so they can keep track of what would be the best design. And that's going to be a lot easier than sketching out every configuration they come up with.

They're also going to need to check to make sure that they have met all the criteria and constraints. Now if you're looking to save some time, don't bother having students glue down their final designs. It's not really necessary, particularly if they had a camera to take a photograph of it. On the flip side maybe you're actually looking to keep them a little bit occupied so you can start packing up your classroom. In which case, by all means give them all the different trunk shapes, have them try all the different variations, glue everything down, make lovely sketches. This can take a long time if you want it to, it just doesn't have to.

To extend on this you can have students present their best trunk design configurations and the sum of the point values. The students can then find the mean, median, mode and range of that data. They could also do any number of graphing activities based on that. You can have students categorize the clip art items so food, things for fun, things for work. They could then find the subtotals of the points for each category and create pie charts, but my favorite extension for this challenge is to have students plan a three day, two-night road trip for a family of four.

They'll have a budget of $2,000 and they can go wherever they choose, but the trip again is only three days and two nights. They're not going to want to spend the whole time in the car. When everyone's trips are planned, have the groups present to the rest of the class to try to sell other students on their vacation.

If you want, you could even make it a contest and have each student vote for which vacation he or she would like to buy. You now have all the basics for the pick and pack challenge, but you're definitely going to want to take a second to check out this resource. It's going to save you a ton of time.

This time saving resource contains everything you need including modifications for use for second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course but the rest is ready and waiting. 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 Pick and Pack 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. You'll find two levels of editable Criteria and Constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students. You'll also get items for your students to pick and trunks for them to pack.

For student design analysis 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 task card templates and samples and road trip planning sheets. As well as math extension and process flow templates.

This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Summer and Mega STEM challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video. I hope you and your students have a great time doing the pick and pack challenge. Make sure you're following my store on Teachers Pay Teachers or subscribe on YouTube. I will be back next time with keep it cool, make it melt. Have a great week! I'll see you next time.

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