One of my favorite STEM design challenge activities is to create a public service announcement. This activity works for any science topic, especially global issues like recycling. First, students ASK questions about the topic, what should people know? IMAGINE how you would gather information about the topic and get these facts out to the public. PLAN each scene of your PSA on paper….students sketch them out and write a script based on your research. CREATE a video / commercial type public service announcement. Last, IMPROVE it by adjusting the lighting, gathering more facts, talking louder, providing more statistics or making some edits. I enjoy assigning this activity because it teaches students that the Engineering Design Process can be used across all subject areas. We need Broadcasting, Video, and Software Engineers too. This reminds student that they don’t have to build a tower or make a boat float to be an engineer.
Pringles Ringle Challenge
is one of my favorites because it’s challenging for both adults and students. The idea that Pringles can be made into a freestanding ring is truly mind-boggling and makes the participants use creativity, communication, critical-thinking, and collaboration (4Cs) to make it happen!
Design and Build a Newspaper Tower
Like all STEM challenges, the Newspaper Tower encourages future-ready skills such as creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. In addition, the materials are easy to find (recycled newspaper and tape), and teachers can make connections to multiple content areas. Want to connect to math and physics? Make the guidelines to build a tower using certain shapes or to hold as much weight as possible. Older students can sketch blueprints on graph paper and write systems of equations to guide the correct angles and lengths of tower parts. Want to connect to social studies? Students can build newspaper tower replicas of famous towers or historical structures. A class can work together to create an ancient newspaper city.
Design and Act Out a Machine
STEM is not always building prototypes. I like to incorporate STEM thinking with the dramatic arts by having students design a machine to solve a problem in their lives or the life of someone else. Students create a drawing of the machine design, then act out the machine for the class (like charades). For novice groups, teachers can provide support by asking students to first act out a well-known machine (for example, a washing machine, a bulldozer, a coffee maker, etc.) to model the task before asking them to design their own new machine. I like this activity because it doesn’t require many materials but allows for students to use the skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication (including non-verbal communication!), and collaboration. Designing machines to solve problems for others also helps students develop empathy. uses student energy productively to learn through movement.
Keep the Water COLD!
I used this challenge recently with teachers from East Point Academy (Mandarin immersion program). Teams are tasked with creating an insulator that will keep a bottle of water cold. Through this challenge participants experience the engineering design process so that they can understand how they might use challenges to structure student learning. An important part of this exercise is for adult learners to think about how to coach students to give each other meaningful feedback.
When I take activities to community events, I enjoy Fizzing Colors and Drops on a Penny activities because they don’t require many materials, which make them simple and easy on the wallet. Fizzing Colors is fun because it has an instantaneous “wow” effect while conveying the science behind chemical reactions and color theory. Kids could play with baking soda and vinegar all day long. And Drops on a Penny is a fun surprise because the pennies always hold way more water droplets than one would think, due to the properties of surface tension and cohesion.
STEM Challenges are just one way to engage students and participate during STEM Education Month. We challenge you to make time during this month to explore a new STEM Challenge, take a field trip to a local STEM-related business, write your legislator to tell them about the importance of providing STEM opportunities to students and educators across the state, visit an iMAGINE STEM festival or one of the many STEM organizations around South Carolina! Check out our website for more suggestions and resources. And don't forget to record your participation using our Be Counted link.
We believe in providing STEM opportunities and access for all. It’s the “why we do” STEM Education Month. Join us in raising awareness in our state.