July 2, 2017

Back-to-School STEM Challenge: Apples Afar

The second challenge in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge series is Apples Afar (Challenge 1: Apples Aloft). If you've found your way here outside of the BTS season, not to worry! These challenges work great for fall apple activities and studies of forces and motion all year long! 

Back-to-School STEM Challenge: In Apples Afar, students build the an apple cantilever! Perfect for studying forces and motion. Includes modifications for grades 2-8.


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students will design and build an apple cantilever, aiming for the longest span. As with all the Back-to-School challenges, the 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 Afar in action:

Other BTS STEM Challenges:


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

Apples Afar 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 Afar, students build the an apple cantilever! Perfect for studying forces and motion. Includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to part two of our Back-to-School STEM Challenges. Challenge two of five is called Apples Afar. And the basic premise is you're going to be building a cantilever. A canti-wha-hoo? A what'sa-whosee? A cantilever. So what that is, is basically a structure that is supported on one end and juts out and it supports a load on the other end.

So for materials, again, we're going to be using symbols of the season: school supplies and apples. Let's take a look a closer look.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I'll define each step in another video. I've added a pop-in card to that video here as well as a link in the description.
So again, you're going to want to give yourself about 90 minutes. It's a little on the longer side but since it's Back-to-School and you want to take your time to establish procedures, I think it's reasonable. You can always break that over two days if you like.

The basic idea as it's written is that the students will build their cantilever and it has to support an apple that is either on top of, inside of or hanging from. And if you have younger students, that might be too difficult so you might want to consider not having an apple at all, we'll talk about that in a second. So you want to make sure that the apple stems again are fair. Either they are the same size or you just remove them altogether. And the reason is that if they choose to secure the apple here when they measure the span ... Notice I'm being very careful, I don't want it to break ... Okay, it's a tough challenge. They're going to measure out to the farthest point of the apple so this one will measure to the stem.

As I was saying, if you have younger students this might be a little bit too challenging. So what you would either want to do is adjust your expectations, they won't build it out quite this far, maybe their cantilever will only go out to this position. Another thing you that can do is just have them build out and don't have them connect anything to the long end. Another thing you can do is just change what it is they have to connect at the end. So, make them balance a school supply, maybe a crayon, maybe a pencil, maybe a glue stick ... There we go. Maybe a binder clip, an eraser, you get the idea. So it doesn't have to be the apple, the apple does certainly lend some difficulty to it. So make the decision based on your kids. Obviously, you might not know your kids that well yet, so do it just based on a gut feel about their age level. You've probably taught before, if you haven't, talk to some teachers at your new grade level and they'll help you figure it out.

One other thing you want to think about before you start is if you're going to allow a brace. So, a brace cantilever, you can see right here, these pencils connecting provide a brace about halfway through ... Well, maybe it's not quite halfway through, I can't quite see, the cantilever. I have another brace up here. So you want to make sure that if you have younger students for sure I wouldn't have any restriction on this. If you have maybe seventh or eighth grade students you might want to consider not allowing a brace at all, so just a single cantilever. And make sure that they understand that if they do provide a brace that it can't exceed past a certain point. You can choose if it's the halfway point or three-quarters or whatever. The reason is that the definition of a cantilever is that it's supported on one side and it juts out over the other. If we have a support that's on this end, then we've got two ends on the support and it's not a cantilever anymore.

You know, there are a lot of options always to modify a design challenge so just do what you feel is a good idea. You can always change your mind. The growth mindset is not just about the kids, it's also about us. So give yourself a little bit of room and flexibility to grow and to move and to learn new things. And, you know, if you mess up it's not a big deal. Try, try again.

This challenge is a great opportunity to talk about Newton's Laws of Motion. If you have third grade, fifth grade or middle school, you have standards in the Next Gen Science Standards that are related to this, so you definitely want to take a few minutes before you do this challenge to review those for yourself and see where you can make those connections.

As always, one of the things you want to do with your prep is to make sure that you have looked for your cross-curricular connections if you are a self-contained teacher, and if you are a single subject teacher, look at your single subject standards and see what you can connect and get as much as you can out of the STEM Challenge.

A few ideas for extensions are to have students identify the forces working on the apple and where those forces are balanced and unbalanced. Introduce Newton's Laws of Motion, of course. Estimate and measure distances and practice doing metric conversions. Use the design and apple to illustrate prepositional phrases. And even have students write a short story where they personify the apple and explain what it's doing out on the edge of a cantilever.

So now you have the basics you need in order to start this challenge Apples Afar in your classroom. But if you want to know more, or you just want to save yourself a lot of planning and prep time, check out the resource right here.

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 help you get the most from each challenge and the Apples Afar materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and set-up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria & Constraints List, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find an editable Criteria & 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 estimated measure distance and measure and convert distance practice, as well as math extension and process flow templates. 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.

So I hope you and your students have a great time with Apples Afar. I would love to hear about it. Message me in the comments or at any of my social media links which are in the description. Make sure you like and subscribe. Next week we'll be back with challenge number three which is Apple Annihilator. See you next time.

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