Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer STEM Series- Part 4- Problem Solving!

Thanks for sticking with me STEM Friends! This has been quite an adventure to convince you to add some STEM to your classrooms! What's up this week?
PROBLEM SOLVING!
Problem Solving in STEM Class! This is the best part of STEM- watching your students use their unique and clever thinking to make the materials work!


Before we dive into that here's a quick recap:
STEM Summer Series: This week's post is all about Problem Solving! The most amazing part of STEM class is watching kids solve problems in delightful ways!


You can find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 with just with a few clicks!


But for now, let's move on to Problem Solving!
This particular topic is very exciting to me!
I know, as an adult and a very right-brained person, that the way I approach tasks and solve problems is vastly different than the way 8-11 year old kids do.
Here's a great example:

Last winter we tried building some platforms. One of the ideas was to use straws and paper clips. I thought kids would do what I do with straws and paper clips. Let me illustrate this for you!
STEM Challenge: Kids showed me a clever way to connect straws and paper clips!

1- Unbend the paper clip into an L shape.
2- Insert one end of the L into the straw.
3- Insert the other end of the L into another straw and now you have a bending corner or joint.
That is what I would do.
Kids did NOT do this.
They did a whole lot of this:
STEM Challenge: Look how these boys made their paper clips and straws work. They clipped the straws together and also threaded the straws through the ends of the paper clips!

Can you see how they clipped the straws together and also threaded the straws through the ends of the paper clips? For the most part this did work- it is just not the way I built my platform.
Aha! But that is one of the best parts of STEM Challenges! The kids learn to be THINKERS without my input and most of the time they do very well at it!

Okay, now that you can see that kids' minds think completely differently than you expect,
let's focus on a few ideas:
1. Kids plan and sketch and it rarely works the way they think it will.
2. They will learn through the trial and error.
3. They will try some things that YOU would have never thought of in a million years.

1. THINGS RARELY WORK AS EXPECTED.
Before beginning any design challenge I have kids talk through their ideas and sketch what they will build. I insist they try to stay true to their plan. Does this work?
No
No
No
But that is real life, people. Have you ever built a house? Our contractor changed our original blueprints dozens of times. As they ran into problems they had to deviate from the drawing!
 It happens. (They charged us extra money for most of the changes, go figure!)
It happens in STEM Class, too!
Here's a sketch of a container we built to use for a cargo drop.


The team planned to build a square container and place the cargo (marshmallows) side by side in the container. They have cardboard on the bottom and craft sticks extending out in several directions.
Well, when they finished and dropped this container the cargo popped out.
Next is their second attempt to solve this problem. They added a cup to the container packed with bubble wrap and craft sticks inside the cup to add some stability because the cargo cannot easily move around.
Did it work?
No.
Back to the drawing board! Next they tried this:
STEM Challenge: This team could not get their cargo to stay inside its container. After multiple improvements they finally added two more craft sticks and banded them together. Did this finally work? YES!
The cup now has two more craft sticks and they are banded together. Did the cargo survive this drop?
YES!
Did they follow their original plan? Somewhat, but through trial and error they encountered several problems and worked to solve them. Genius!

2. SPEAKING OF TRIAL AND ERROR
This happens constantly in our challenges. The kids plan a design, build it, try it out, and watch what happens. Based on what they see in the trial they make adjustments, take away, add to, and solve the problems. Take a look:
STEM Challenge: The kids had to find a way to keep the string in place. In the top photo the team curled a paper clip around the column and made a little hook. In the bottom photo the team used pipe cleaners to make an enclosed spot so the string would stay in place.

In both these photos students had to find a way to make a string bridge work. We called these gliding bridges. The idea was that a container suspended from a rope would cross a river. By pulling on the rope the passengers in the container could transport themselves across the river. The problem shown in the photos is that the string was popping off the support columns and the container would crash. The kids had to find a way to keep the string in place. In the top photo the team curled a paper clip around the column (dowel stick) and made a little hook. In the bottom photo the team used pipe cleaners to make an enclosed spot so the string would stay in place. They also cleverly used the extra string to make a guide wire to hold the contraption in place! Amazing!

3. THINGS YOU WOULD NEVER THINK OF!
I have watched kids solve some pretty tough situations. One day I had a student say, "I can't tell you how many times we have failed at this!" Did he give up? Absolutely not! He went right back to his group and they kept working. They just tried something else!
Here's a few of my favorite Kid Solutions. Be prepared- these are fairly profound!
STEM Challenge: It's a rescue challenge! They have woven a straw through the craft stick platform at the top and by turning the straw they can wind up the platform on the ground.

The one above is from a challenge in which the kids had to build a rescue device that could wind up a cargo platform. Look closely. They have woven a straw through the craft stick platform at the top and by turning the straw they can wind up the platform on the ground. This was a challenging task. Making something that would actually wind up was harder than you think!
STEM Challenge: The cargo had to be inside a container with no top on it and when dropped the cargo could NOT move. This team added the paper "spring" to help absorb the impact of being dropped.
The one above is from the Cargo Drop challenge. The cargo had to be inside a container with no top on it and when dropped the cargo could NOT move. This team added the paper "spring" to help absorb the impact of being dropped.
STEM Challenge: The bridge made of straws needed to support the weight of a tower that would be placed on the bridge later. This group used craft sticks to connect the straws across the opening for the bridge, but the straws and sticks kept slipping. They added a rubber band and then taped it in place to stop the movement of their bridge.
Above is what some third graders did to solve a bridge problem. The bridge made of straws needed to support the weight of a tower that would be placed on the bridge later. This group used craft sticks to connect the straws across the opening for the bridge, but the straws and sticks kept slipping. Do you see what they did? They added a rubber band and then taped it in place to stop the movement of their bridge.
STEM Challenge: The group in the above photo came to me and asked if they could have a pulley. Sadly, I told them they could not have a pulley. So, they used a plastic cup and made their own PULLEY!

The one above is one that has made me marvel every time I see this photo. It's from the Gliding Bridge challenge. The gliding bridge device had to span an opening between two tables. On each side of the span kids built a support column of dowel sticks. A string connected the two support columns on each side of the span. The string had to be movable. We actually pulled the string to make it slide around the support columns and transport the passengers. The group in the above photo came to me and asked if they could have a pulley- which I thought was rather genius. Of course they needed a pulley and I was pleased they knew this. Sadly, I told them they could not have a pulley. So, what did they do?
Look at it closely. They used a plastic cup and made their own PULLEY!
STEM Challenge:The one big problem we had was making the connecting device so that it would slide easily over the string of the zip line. This team threaded a straw through holes in the passenger container and then placed the zip line string through the straw. It worked perfectly!
The one above is from a Zip line Challenge. The kids had to build a passenger container that would travel down a zip line. The one big problem we had was making the connecting device so that it would slide easily over the string of the zip line. The team in the photo threaded a straw through holes in the passenger container and then placed the zip line string through the straw. It worked perfectly!

Are you kidding me? Kids are Ah-May-Zing!
They think so much differently than we do. And here's the thing. They can solve some pretty tough challenges and problems.
I bet you engineer something in your house or classroom all the time. 
Kids can solve those problems, too!

Try a STEM Challenge with your students this year! They will amaze you! You will be hooked!

Next thing to look for on this little blog is a post about 
"TEN THINGS YOU NEED FOR YOUR SCIENCE CLASSROOM FROM THE DOLLAR TREE!"

Watch for it- it's coming soon!



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer STEM Series- The Science

Here it is Friends!
Part 3 of my Summer Series to convince you to try STEM!
What's our topic today?
STEM and the Science behind the activities! It's not just about building things. Science and math are the core of engineering tasks in the classroom! Read this blog post for more!

STEM Summer Series: This week's post is all about the science behind STEM tasks! It's a hand-on learning adventure!


Just a quick recap! This is part 3 so you will also want to take a look at Parts 1 and 2:
Part 1 was All About Supplies
Part 2 was about Collaboration

Alright, let's talk about Science!
Folks, I started teaching like about, well a large number, of years ago. Here's how we did science. We opened our text book. We read a section. We answered the questions at the end of the section. We moved to the next section. About every 30 pages in the text book we would find that magic page with an actual experiment on it. Sometimes I was able to do it as a demonstration, but NEVER did the whole class get to participate.
So, today's kids are so lucky to have hands-on science and STEM!

When I had the chance to be a STEM Lab teacher I was all for it!
Now, let's break this down into a list (cause I like lists!)

Science Thing 1: The Method
Here's the first thing I discovered in the first few days of being a STEM Lab teacher.
The kids didn't understand variables.
The very first activity I used with all my classes involved experimenting, using variables, and then designing something.
But they didn't understand variables.

I had to back up and really teach the scientific method. I also created some visuals that are still hanging on my lab wall and we refer to them EVERY SINGLE DAY!
Science in STEM Class! What better way than to use the scientific method! This cute poster set will help keep students on track!

I have these mounted in  a vertical line that I can stand under (Course I am really short). Promise, we use these everyday! It's a STEM Lab, but we experiment and use science vocabulary daily!

Science Thing 2: Newton
So, after a few lessons about variables and controls and the scientific method, we finally moved on to the first design activity that uses these terms and some more great science with Newton's Laws of Motion.

Newton is really perplexing to kids. First, they have no concept of time and cannot imagine a person living hundreds of years ago and then when you start quoting the Laws of Motion they get a glazed look on their faces.
To be honest, so do I!
I mean, do you understand this: 
"Newton's first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force."

Gah! Well, neither did we. Mind you, we had some great talks about this and performed lots of experiments. And with the students helping I developed some really simple explanations:
"Simply put, if an object is not moving it will never move and if an object is moving it will continue to move in the same direction forever."
Now, I think that is pretty easy to understand- we had help with some fabulous videos I found and you can find the links for them at the bottom of this post!
The experiment that sparked the beginning of this stuff about Newton was about marshmallow blow tubes.
Yep!
Science in STEM class! Let's tackle Newton's 2nd law of motion with this crazy good activity that involves marshmallow blow tubes!

This is the reason we needed the science behind variables. The kids had to control how they blew the marshmallows, where in the tube the marshmallow was placed, and how long the tube was. And they had to understand why these factors were important. The end result of this experiment was to determine if Newton was right about forces acting on a moving object.
This spectacular activity also had us measuring, calculating distances, and averaging distances. It was quite intense and these were third graders!
Of course, I think the fact they were blowing marshmallows all over the room was one reason they loved it.
The thing is- they still remember this stuff and this was two years ago. That is why getting those science concepts in there is so important! The hands-on activities are what helps them remember.

Science Thing 3: Separating Ink
This is an activity that I have used many times and when I started getting ready for it in the STEM Lab I wanted to make sure we understood the science behind what the activity.

Before we started the experiment we talked about the word "Chromatography". I had the kids make lists of all the words that have graph or graphy in them and then take a close look at the words. Could they determine what chromatography might be by noticing the similarities between the words? Well, they got part of it right. They guessed that it had something to do with graphics or pictures.

Here's the scoop: The word part  "chroma" comes from the Greek word for color and "graphy" means writing. Chromatography is a process to separate mixtures by using a liquid. In this experiment the liquid is water. We used a coffee filter paper as the solid to help with the separation. The mixture, which is marker ink, will separate. Here's the science: some of the ink’s components will stick to the solid and other parts will wick across the solid. The result is a band of colors. The colors just happen to be the colors of the ink used to make each marker! Now, that's pretty cool!
Science in STEM Class! This task is all about the science of color! What colors make up different ink blends? What about primary colors? What color is their ink?


We went through the process with 6 colors of markers and then repeated it with black markers. Do you know what colors make up black ink?
The design part of this challenge came later when we used our filter papers for an art project!

Science Thing 4: Rampology
Okay, let's go back to Newton and the scientific method.
This past May I invented an experiment with ramps for my third graders. They started off with plastic ramps and worked on what kind of angle the ramp needed in order to produce the best distance for the little cars. Then we tried adding weights to the cars to see if that changed anything.
I had to really work with them to make sure they understood to test one variable at a time. We went back to our poster display and word wall vocabulary numerous times! Then we moved on to Newton!
In looking at Newton's Second Law of Motion we were a little muddled. What do yoo think?
"In this law Newton says that the greater the mass of an object, the more force it will take to accelerate that object. He even has a scientific formula for this: Force = Mass x Acceleration or F= M x A. The Force (F) acting on an object is equal to the object’s Mass (M) times its Acceleration (A)."

Yeah. You try reading that to some third graders and see what you get!

Well, actually it will work better than you think because after watching some videos and talking about it and then using the plastic track and some little cars we were able to phrase the Law of Motion in kid terms. See what you think about this:

"In simple terms, the farther you want something to go, the harder you must throw it or kick it."

The kids surmised that if they wanted the cars to go farther then they would need bigger and taller ramps.
Science in STEM class! Use the scientific method to experiment with different ramp angles and then build the best version of the ramp you can!



The design part of this challenge was to actually build a ramp! We had a lot of fun with the ramps and ran into some terrific problems to solve!
In the end we understood Newton's Laws a little better and we had used the scientific method- especially managing the variables of the ramp and car trials!

So, here's the point of today's message. The science  behind why something works the way it does can be the background of a STEM event. Sometimes that is how I introduce a topic. But sometimes I tell the kids NOTHING. I let them make the discoveries and then later we learn about the science behind it!

I am willing to bet that these will be the concepts the kids remember for a long time! For you, as a regular classroom teacher, STEM is perfect! You can cover those science standards, add a design challenge to it, and cement the learning! 

Okay here are your links for some great Newton Videos:
Video 1- This one shows a really neat look at objects floating in zero gravity and the information is easy to understand!
Video 2 -This is a neat presentation showing a cartoon format with each law. It’s easy to understand the concepts, but the video sound is not working correctly. Mute it!
Video 3- This is a short video, but really good!

Join me for Part 4 next week! We will talk about Problem Solving!!





Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer Time in Vegas! and Five for Friday!

Oh my! Off to Vegas we went last week! I know I am like all the teachers that gathered in saying:
We were inspired.
We were in awe of the event!
We were excited and eager to learn.
We were hot!
Literally, like one day is was 102 degrees outside.

Anyway, this post is two linkies in one and I will explain that later in this random Conference Linkie and Five for Friday linkie!

Thanks to Elementary Entourage for the Conference Linky!

And, as always, thanks to Kacey at Doodlebugs Teaching for Five for Friday!

First up, the question is being asked in so many places? What is your greatest take-away from the conference?
Here's mine and this is a quote from one of the sessions:
"Focus on what you can be the authority on- that's your market."
Wow, is that ever true. And the thing is, that's true in every aspect of our lives. So, my focus is science and STEM because that is what I do everyday and what I understand right now. I may have taught third grade for a really long time, but that doesn't mean I can produce endless task card sets for reading intervention. I am not the "authority" on that! (and I use the word authority loosely!)

Here's the explanation for combining two linkies.
It's all about time management.
We (teachers) do TOO much. So, one thing from the conference that resonates with me and something I heard over and over, was this: Stop multi-tasking. Focus on ONE thing at a time and do a quality job of that one thing. Make your To-Do list short.
Amen.

Meeting people, bloggers, and TpT buddies has to be mentioned.
I mean, just look at this:
I especially loved meeting my good friend Laura from Luv My Kinders and Jennifer from First Grade Blue Skies.
And, y'all I introduced myself to Rachel Lynette and got a big hug. She is amazing and told me so many kind things about the guest blog post I did for her last month!
And I met Camping Teacher and Literary Sherri and Chrissie from Undercover Classroom. I spent a lot of time with Misty Miller, Kerry Tracy, Teacher's Keeper, and so many more! 

Finally, I must say that one really nice thing about the conference was learning to be more mindful of Pinterest. I try to post a lot of photos and not just product covers, but one thing I heard repeatedly was to make those photos a little more full of pizzazz.... so how's this:


Simple, yet it's eye catching!
That's from a fantastic STEM Challenge we completed in which each group has the same supplies, but completes a different structure. Then two groups have to join their structures together! Read more about it right {HERE}


Okay, I will leave you with the most amazing thing that came from our trip to Nevada.
The conference was great, but this was spectacular.


We, the hubs and I, snagged a short plane ride to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
We flew in a tiny little plane and then jumped on board this:
That helicopter took us for an hour long flight through the canyon - mostly we were quiet because of the complete awesomeness of the view.
There aren't enough words to describe the beauty of this place.

Have a great weekend y'all!


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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Summer STEM Series - Collaboration Part 2

Thanks so much for stopping by. This is part 2 in my summer STEM series! My goal is to convince you to try STEM. I tried to think of the things that might be scary, but also the reasons STEM is so wonderful.

So, join me as we tackle one of my favorite reasons you should try STEM!
This week it's all about Collaboration.
Summer STEM Series: This week is all about collaboration! It's about teamwork, solving problems, and getting those heads together to make it work!


Last week we covered Supplies- which is the number one reason I hear teachers say they don't want to try a STEM challenge! If you missed that post, click right{here}. Hopefully, that post convinced you that the supplies are really easy!

Alright, let's talk about Collaboration.
First off, STEM is group work. Every challenge (almost) I have ever tried had kids working in groups of 3-4 and sometimes as many as 8.
Let me just tell you this:
It is AMAZING to watch kids work together. To be honest it took time for us to reach a level of comfort with this concept. Now, after two years of weekly STEM lab class my kids know what to do and they get busy. Here are my favorite parts of Collaboration!

PLANNING
This has been a real learning curve. But I finally found a splendid way to get everyone involved.
Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Take a look at the way this student planned and thought about his design. This is part of my Summer STEM Series!

Every student has a lab sheet and on it every student must sketch the idea he or she has. The drawing must be labeled. Here's the real gem of this process. After sketching the student must write reasons the idea is the best for the group. (In the photo above the student has written this reason his Cargo Drop idea is best: "It might work and I think my group will like it and it doesn't cost much.") Then, we stop and present ideas. Every team member must turn their paper around to the other kids, tell about their sketch, point out what is happening in the sketch, tell about the idea, and then talk about why it is the best for the group. The others may ask questions. Then the next student in the group does the same thing!
After all of them have presented ideas the group discusses what to do. They must decide as a group and complete a final sketch of that decision and write why they made the choices.
Oh my!
Can I just tell you that inventing this plan is one of my genius moments. It takes a little bit of time to do this, but it pays off in the end. There is no whining about not being heard. The plan gives everyone a voice. Best of all, the kids work through the ideas and come up with great combinations of ideas and then they are ready to get busy building. It is a true collaborative effort right from the beginning.

CHOOSING
One of our favorite things to add to a STEM challenge is the use of a budget. For some reason kids love it when the supplies have a "cost". I assign a dollar value to each supply and part of the task involves deciding which supplies and how much will be needed. I LOVE watching the kids make these decisions. Just recently I had a group that spent a good five minutes with detailed examination of the supplies and then quite a bit of worry over the price of foam pieces. But, y'all isn't this real life?
In the meantime it makes the kids work together to make decisions. And I often send them back to the "drawing board". When I have a group that asks for a large amount of anything- regardless of its cost- I ask them to revisit their design plan and make sure they need 15 cups or foam pieces or whatever. That is also such an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on!



WORKING TOGETHER
Speaking of working together!
STEM forces this! As I said, this is a learning experience. We have gone through quite a bit of talking to help all students understand their duties to a group and how to work even when you don't like your group. (That's real life, too!) The great thing is this: The more STEM you do, the better it will get!
Here's a few of my favorite moments!
STEM Challenge: Two groups each build part of a final structure. The two groups must then work together to join their two parts. It's the ultimate in collaborating! STEM!

This one is a little activity in which two groups had to work together in a bridge/tower challenge. Each group received the same supplies. But one group had to build a bridge and the other had to build a tower that would sit on the bridge. WOW! This activity was electric! The energy in the room was just amazing. Each group had to do its own planning for the task, but here's the kicker. The two partner groups had to work together! The bridge had to support the tower and the tower people had to make sure the tower would sit correctly on the bridge. It was the ultimate test of teamwork!
STEM Challenges: Collaboration in action. Take a look at all the hands engaged in building! It's a ramp challenge and this sample is featured on my blog as part of a Summer STEM series!

This is a recent activity about building ramps. I LOVE this photo. The kids have their design sketches in front of them, each student is doing something to help. Can you tell one student is sitting on the tabletop with pieces of tape torn and ready to hand off? Sometimes I will stop at a group and ask how things are going and they will begin to rattle off what their jobs are: Tape handler, sketch master, paper folder, cutter, tester......nevermind that I have given them official job titles that are fancy. They love tape handler better!
STEM Challenges: It's all about collaboration! Read more in my summer STEM series!

This is another photo from the bridge and tower experience. I love this one just because it is so obvious that it is taking multiple hands to get the job done!

STEM Challenges just work more smoothly when lots of little hands share the work load! Collaboration is this week's topic on my blog!

Same thing with this one. They are building a container for a cargo drop and it is taking lots of hands to get it done!
In this STEM Challenge two groups have to work together. One group built the launching apparatus and the other built a target to shoot at. The two groups had to work together, but in the photo you can see that even in shooting their device it took lots of hands!

This was a little fun challenge about targets and launchers with two groups having to work together. One group built the launching apparatus and the other built a target to shoot at. The two groups had to work together, but in the photo you can see that even in shooting their device it took lots of hands!

You want team work at its grandest? - try STEM!

PRESENTING

STEM: One of our favorite parts of STEM that is all about collaboration is presenting our final structures. At the end of class we take a few minutes to share what has been created. The kids talk about the problems they had, how those problems were solved, and then demonstrate their results.

One of our favorite parts of STEM that is all about collaboration is presenting our final structures. At the end of class we take a few minutes to share what has been created. The kids talk about the problems they had, how those problems were solved, and then demonstrate their results. The team in the above photo built a tower from newspaper that supports an egg. The girl with pink sleeves is explaining why the structure is standing!
This presentation time is vital to your STEM challenges. It gives every group a moment to shine- even if their structure is a failure. I have had so many groups say, "Well, our tower is not standing, but we were still successful because...." and then proceed to tell us all the good things they did together. We all listen, ask questions, and applaud the efforts of each group!
STEM: For their presentation this team asked if they could make costumes. I said they could as long as it was simple supplies. They used cardboard and packing fluff and made masks. Their "commercial" for their food delivery company (invented in STEM class) was priceless!

Okay, let me just tell you about the photo above!
This is in the middle of a presentation for a challenge in which each group had to design a box for a food delivery company. The box had to keep the food hot and had to be crush proof. The food delivery company had to have advertising- which included posters and a television commercial. For this major project I put fifth graders into groups of 8-9 kids! Yep, 8-9! But here's the reason: a small group worked on the delivery box. They had to build it and test it. Another group was the poster team. Another small group was the TV commercial team.
All three teams had to work together. The box design team had to relay messages to the ad teams about what the box looked like. The poster team had to work with the TV team to get the slogan just right. All team members were in the TV commercial and had to rehearse together.
WOW!
Now, back to the photo.
One team asked if they could make costumes. I said they could as long as it was simple supplies. They used cardboard and packing fluffy stuff and made masks. In the photo you can see a lion (on the floor) and an elephant (standing). In the poster you see the words Potato Potato---now sing that to the tune of Hakuna Matata.....
It was the best kid commercial ever! They had an entire song written using the Hakuna Matata tune and it was all about their baked potato food company. All team members were disguised as a jungle animal. They had props, dancing, singing, and it was just so fun!

Kids will amaze you with their creativity, their thinking, and the way they can work together.
Have I convinced you to try a STEM challenge yet?

Next week in this summer STEM series: The Science!
Oh my!

   
In the meantime try these:

    

    







Wednesday, July 8, 2015

So....Are You Thinking About Trying STEM? Part 1

Really? Are you?
To be honest, the first time I heard the words "STEM Lab" I had to go and google search to find out what it meant.

But now....WOW! 
My teaching job is  STEM Lab Teacher.
Ah-MAY-zing!
Join me in this four part series to learn more about STEM and why you just might need to make it part of your classroom!
Summer STEM Series: this post is the first in a series of four that will get you set up to try STEM activities! It's easy, kids love them, so what are you waiting for?

Today's topic is STEM supplies!
It's a rather daunting aspect of STEM and I do sometimes look at projects and know the cost will be prohibitive. Even if I were teaching a self-contained class and only needed supplies for 20-30 students it can still be overwhelming! By the way I have 17 classes that I see each week!

So, what to do?
Keep it simple.
I am telling you that supplies can be dollar store items or just the junk you pull out of the cabinets.
Here's a list of the items I use most often:
straws, aluminum foil, craft sticks, masking tape, string, paper, foam pieces, toothpicks, modeling dough, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, and pennies.
Really!
 Let me show you a few things we have done and the simple supplies used.
STEM Challenge: This post is all about how easy STEM Supplies can be. The great spaghetti challenge is a great example!
Spaghetti Challenge!
Students use spaghetti, masking tape, string, and one marshmallow.
I buy the largest box of generic brand spaghetti Wal Mart has, masking tape from Wal Mart that is 97 cents a roll, one bag of jumbo MM's (also the generic brand), and the roll of string I have had for a long time. Total cost for one class would be less than $5. You could buy a smaller box of spaghetti for only one class!
STEM Challenge: Here's an easy prep and easy materials task. Read more about it on my blog's summer STEM series!
Toothpick Towers!
For this one you need TWO supplies- toothpicks and cans of modeling dough.
The toothpicks I seem to have on hand already. But a box from the WM is less than $1 and the modeling dough is found at The Dollar Tree. It comes in sets of four cans for $1 and I get enough so every group has one can. So, total for this challenge is $6-$7 per class. Kids love this challenge!
STEM Challenge: This much loved challenge has easy materials you just gather from your classroom. Kids love this one! Read more about it on my summer STEM series!
BOATS!
Y'all I am not kidding. Every group of students I have used the Boat Challenge with has LOVED it and they want to repeat it a lot! The "junk" I use for boats is straws, styrofoam cups, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, tape, and foam sheets.
All of those supplies come from the Dollar Tree.
In fact, just a small secret I will tell  you: ALWAYS buy straws at the Dollar Tree. They are longer than the Wal Mart brand. Total cost for a class would be about $6 and you will have supplies left over. You also need dish pans! And you need pennies to use for weights!
STEM Challenge: This is the easiest one ever! Kids have one material and tape! It's almost a no-prep challenge! Read more about it on my summer STEM series!
Two supplies: foil and tape.
Yes, I know aluminum foil costs a lot, but I found this spectacular thing at The Dollar Tree! Aluminum foil Sheets! Yes, sheets. They come in a pack of 30 and it's sheets that are about 12 inches or so square and they are already torn. It's not great quality foil, but it works perfectly. Total cost for a class would be about $2!
STEM Challenge: Here's another super easy prep and one material challenge! Paper and tape and kids! Read more about it on my summer STEM series!
PIPELINES!
This is THE MOST Spectacular challenge and it uses two things- paper and tape. I mean copy paper- something you already have tons of and if you do STEM challenges at all you will have masking tape! Total cost for a class would be about $1- if you had to buy tape.

See, I told you it was simple!
I promise, cross my heart, the day I invented the Boat Challenge I literally just started opening cabinets and dumping out weird things I found. When the kids came in I said, "Here you go! Build a boat!" They loved it! They had no clue it was just junk from the cabinets!
Yes, supplies can be more costly and harder to obtain. But you can also just visit the Dollar Store!

Here's another idea:
Get parents involved. Send home a newsletter and ask for supplies. Be specific. Tell parents you want the aluminum foil sheets from the dollar store or the straws or cans of modeling dough. Ask for donations if parents don't want to go shopping! Get your PTA involved and always ask your principal for help with getting things. This year I got enough microscopes for a class set just by mentioning it to my boss one day!
Speaking of the dollar store take a look at this:
STEM Challenges! Don't be afraid of the materials you need! The dollar store will help you out and so will this blog post!
Click on the image to get to a post I did that is all about items you need from the dollar store! Or click {HERE}

 Come back next week and read about more reasons to try STEM. It's all about Collaboration!