July 8, 2017

Back-to-School STEM Challenge: Apples A-head

The fifth challenge in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge series is Apples A-head (see Challenge 1, 2, 3, 4)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 A-head, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.


Working against a Criteria & Constraints List individually or with partners, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion! 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 A-head in action:

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

Apples A-head 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 A-head, students build an apple-balancing device to be worn on their heads and test in a relay race. This challenge is perfect for studies of gravity, forces & motion, and includes modifications for grades 2-8.

Video Transcription

Welcome to Part 5 of 5. It’s our last Back-to-School STEM Challenge. This is Challenge 5 of 5. It is called Apples A-head. Let’s take a closer look at the materials, and I’ll be right back.

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 cart to that video here, as well as a link in the description.

You might be familiar with some of my STEM challenges. I love to combine a STEM challenge with a little bit of PE, and this is one such challenge. The students are going to be making an apple-balancing device that they can wear on their heads, and they can use it to compete in a relay race. It has elements of STEM, elements of PE, and elements of strategy involved.

Criteria and constraints are pretty simple on this. The students need to all make their own headwear. It needs to keep the apple balanced on top of their heads, as they compete in the relay race, and it’s got to be easy to take the apple in and out of their devices so they can transfer them quickly. For the constraints, you have that the students may not touch the device or apple during the race, except during transfers.

If you have younger students and you want to make the race a little bit easier, I’ll allow them to actually touch the device, but not the apple. I also use smaller apples with younger students to make things a little easier. The students are not allowed to fully cover the apple. It must always remain visible.

If you have older students, you might actually want to increase the difficulty so, in that case, you use larger apples. Require that students make devices that allow them to balance two or more apples on their head at a time. You can require that every student in their group create a unique design, so no doubling up within the same group. You can definitely keep that constraint that students are not allowed to touch the apple or the device during the race, except during transfers to teammates.
Each student and team should make his or her own headwear. That way, they don’t have to transfer the headwear, and you don’t have to worry about having a lice fiasco during your first couple of weeks of school. Nobody wants that.

By now, you might be wondering, “Is she going to wear that the entire time she talks?” Yes, she is going to wear this the entire time she talks.

One of the things you want to do for a setup is you want to think about where you can hold the relay race, so make sure that you have that in mind. You’re going to need either cones, or you can use chairs, so that at the far end of the relay course, students will have something they can walk around.
You also want to think about what is the mode of the relay race. Are you having students just walk the course, which is probably recommended and it’s hard to go much faster with an apple on your head. But you might want to throw in some obstacles, like they have to turn around in a circle, or they have to hula-hoop, or squat, or jump, or whatever.

I recommend making sure that each group has its own timer, so I’ll let students use their cellphones if they have them for that. It just makes it easier on you as the teacher not to have to call out times and figure out who was first and all that. You want to be able to have each group know what their own time is because, when they do a second iteration, which hopefully they will, you don’t have to on this one. It’s a little bit lighter, but it is fun to see how you can improve your time by improving your designs, but also by improving your teamwork and your strategy.

The reason you want to have the students have their timers is, rather than determining their success based on, “Oh, our team came in first place," or "Our team came in third place,” it’s better to use your time, it’s more concrete, so the time it takes you to complete the relay course for each race. That way, you can compare over time how you’ve improved.

Again, you want to take a look, for your cross-curricular connections ...

If you want to save yourself some time and some prep work, take a look at the actual resource.
This 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 has been done for you. You’ll get aligned Next Gen 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 A-head Materials List.

In Teacher Tips, you’ll find premise and set-up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, directions for running the relay race, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions, including links to videos and articles to help you and your students understand more about Newton’s Laws of Motion.

You’ll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list. 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 two Apple writing templates, as well as map 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.

I really enjoyed putting seasonal STEM challenges together and if you want to see more like it, take a look in the links in the description below for my store, and you can see the 44 challenges I’ve put together so far, most of which are seasonal, but not all, and there’s a freebie in there, too.
Make sure that you like and subscribe. I will be back next week, but I’m not telling you with what yet, so I’ll see you then.

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