.One of the things I love the most about teaching fourth grade is how EXCITED students get when you tell them that they are going to be “real” scientists! Using a STEM challenge is a great way to get started!
Easy STEM Challenges!
One of our district units in fourth grade is a science kit called “Motion and Design” which is, essentially, an engineering kit. It is a FANTASTIC way to end the year because the students are physically active “doing” science and have really learned the collaborative skills needed to be successful!To get us warmed up for the unit, I have created a few cooperative challenges for the students to try to get them in the scientific frame of mind. I want the students to not only be able to work together, but I want them to see that scientists constantly have to do things like . . .
and more! One of the challenges I designed was a “column challenge” where the students were given a set of supplies (1 sheet of paper, liquid glue, 1 paper clip!) and told to design a column that would support as much weight as possible. I gave them about 10 minutes as a team to meet, brainstorm, and experiment with the materials.
When the experimenting time was over, I gave the students 20 more minutes to work and told them they needed to fill out their planning sheet, get it approved by me, and then build their tower. I allowed them to build 3 different columns–as long as they had their plans on their sheet!
Groups got to work and it was fun to see the different design attempts came in. After the students had been working for a while, I threw in a curveball! I stopped work and told them that many times in the real world, plans change at the last minute and I added in a new requirement:
The column must be at least 3 inches tall.
You should have HEARD the moans! I simply pointed at the clock and the kids quickly regrouped, got new supplies, and got to work.
I had tall columns, short columns, square columns, round columns–and even “combos” like this . . .
Yes, it was messy. Yes, there were arguments. But in the end, we waited a day for the columns to dry and then we TESTED! We set some ground rules about sportsmanship and so on and then dragged out some old math textbooks to use as our uniform weights.
“What did you learn from testing your columns?”
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