June 30, 2017

Back-to-School STEM Challenge: Apples Aloft

Back-to-School is just around the corner, and STEM challenges make the best ice-breakers! But don't fret if you've found your way here outside of the back-to-school season! Truth be told, this challenge works great for fall apple activities and studies of forces and motion all year long! 

Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apples Aloft, students build the tallest tower possible from school supplies with an apple on top! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students will design a tower for maximum height with at least one apple on top. As with all the challenges in this series, materials are the symbols of the season: school supplies and apples!

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 do prefer to read it, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post. :)

Check out the video below to see Apples Aloft in action:

This challenge has a print-friendly resource (left) and a digital resource for use with Google Slides (right).

Apples Aloft is one of the five challenges in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge Bundle. 

And if that's not enough, you can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!

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


Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apples Aloft, students build the tallest tower possible from school supplies with an apple on top! Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Video Transcription

I've been working for weeks on Back-to-School challenges, and I'm finally going to be sharing them with you. There are five in total, and I'm going to be sharing this over the next four weeks. I'm so excited I'm going to do two posts today, so keep an eye out.

All right, so are you ready? Let's do this. Challenge one of five is Apples Aloft. The basic premise is we're building a tower, and we're going to be using symbols of the season. So back to school supplies and apples. Let's take a closer look.
his 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.
What makes this challenge perfect for the first Back-to-School challenge is it's a classic. It's the tower. And that's something that everybody has background on. It's easy to understand what you're supposed to do, so I love it.

So you're going to want to give yourself about 90 minutes. Typically for a classic like this it would only take about an hour, but since it's back to school and you want to use some extra time to establish those routines and procedures, just give yourself the extra time. Also, you don't want to cut short any of the discussion, it's gonna really help you get to know your kids.

When the students are measuring the towers they're going to measure to the top of the stem. So you want to make sure when you give out the apples at the beginning that you do so fairly. So you can see here we would have definitely an unfair advantage for this team. So either take the stems off all of them, or let them design their own stem using their material, that's another way to handle it.
If you're looking to increase difficulty, you can require the designs be portable, don't let the students tape the base of the tower to their working surface. And you can constrain the tape in general. Require two or more apples be supported by the tower, but decide ahead of time if you want those apples to be supported at the top of the tower, or if it's okay for the students to place apples at various levels. You can have students complete the secondary challenge, Apple Abater, in which they're trying to stop an oncoming apple attack, alongside Apples Aloft. And you're going to source from the same materials and have them complete the designs in the same time frame as Apples Aloft.

One of my other challenges is called Apple Annihilator, and it's basically an apple wrecking ball. Naturally, these things go hand in hand, so if you're planning on doing both of these challenges, just keep in mind that either you're going to want to do them back to back, or you're going to want to plan to make some storage space for one of them.

So just to make sure that you get all the benefits of your STEM challenge, you're going to want to look for extension activities. So you're going to want to search your standards of your single subject. Well that's easy enough, clear enough. If you are a self-contained teacher, you're going to want to look for cross-curricular connections and get as much benefit as you can out of this.

A couple of ideas for extension: you could have students estimate and measure various heights and distances, and then couple that with a getting to know your school or classroom activity. So, for example, how many of your apple towers would it take to get from the classroom library to the teacher's desk? Or to the water fountain outside the principal's office. You could have students create a map of a village where their apple towers are located, and follow up with various scales, cardinal and ordinal directions. You could even have students create map mysteries for their peers to solve, using different scale measurements and directions. What's great about that if you do that individually, is you'll have a whole class set of these map mysteries you can use in centers or for early finishers or sub days throughout the rest of the year. And, of course have students complete secondary or related challenges like Apple Abater and Apple Annihilator. You can find more details about Apple Abater in the resource, and for Apple Annihilator, I will link that below.

So those are the basics of the Apples Aloft challenge. But, if you want to find out more about this challenge or you’re just looking to save yourself a lot of planning and prep time, I do have this prepared as a resource, so let's take a look at that.

This 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 for Engineering and Physical science, links to my STEM challenge How-To videos to get the most from each challenge, and the Apples Aloft 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 also find an editable Criteria and Constraints List, so you can tailor this 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 Extension Handouts you'll find estimated measure practice as well as math extension and process flow templates. You'll also get an optional, secondary challenge called Apple Abater. This resource is available individually, and is part of the discounted, Back-to-School, and Mega STEM challenge bundles. For one to one paperless classrooms, a version for use with Google slides is coming soon. Links can be found in the description below the video.

I hope you guys enjoyed Apples Aloft, and I hope that you do this challenge with your students. I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Please like and subscribe, and tune in next time where we'll be talking about Apples Afar.

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