Solving the Puzzle of the Ferris Wheel

Oh, my! What have we been doing in the lab? This was one of our favorite challenges last spring and in some summer school classes! 

It's Ferris wheels! Do you remember the first time you rode a Ferris Wheel? I do! It was at an Oktober Fest in Germany and the Ferris Wheel passenger cars were quite large and round (like the ones in the photo below). The center pole in the passenger car had a wheel on it and you could turn that wheel to make the passenger car go around and around. Just think about how dizzy this would make you as you swirled around in a circle while going around in a circle! 
Here's a great summer time STEM Challenge! Build a Ferris Wheel! It needs to be hexagonal and turn on a central axle! Will symmetry play a part in the final design?
This little challenge is part of a trio of challenges that are all about summer vacation theme park rides- Ferris Wheels, Roller Coasters, and Water Slides. These are perfect for summer or the month of August as kids head back to school!

You can see posts about the other challenges!

In the meantime, this post is all about Ferris Wheels!


History of the Ferris Wheel 

First, of all, do you know why Ferris wheel must be capitalized? It's named after the inventor Mr. Ferris!

This happened in 1893 when the director of the Chicago World's Fair wanted a gigantic, unique, and amazing structure to rival the Eiffel Tower which had been the feature at the previous World's Fair in Paris. The director challenged a group of engineers to design something bigger and better and Mr. Ferris came up with the Ferris wheel. His structure was 250+ feet tall with 60 passenger cars. People paid fifty cents to ride the Ferris wheel which meant about a two revolution ride that took 20 minutes. Sadly, that original Ferris wheel was destroyed a few years later.

After we learned all this trivia about the first Ferris wheel my students were ready to build models.
Only they didn't have steel beams.They had craft sticks and glue.

HELPFUL HINT: If you try this project you are going to need craft sticks! Don't be fooled by the dollar store variety- get the giant box- like this one:

They last forever, can be reused, and are much more economical than the dollar store packages!

The Geometry of the Wheel

STEM Challenge: Build a Ferris wheel! Kids had to work through making a hexagonal shape and then joining the two sides together. It was also really important that the two sides were symmetrical and joined properly.
We had to work through making a hexagonal shape and then joining the two sides together. It was also really important that the two sides were symmetrical and joined properly. Otherwise, you ended up with a wonky wheel that would not turn. This happened a lot! But, one of the things I love about STEM is that kids make mistakes and then try something else. When their misshapen wheels were not turning they took the whole structure apart and were more diligent about laying those craft sticks in a good arrangement- but with each side matching. It was like the ultimate jigsaw puzzle!
Check the photo below for some wonkiness!

STEM Challenge: This task required using symmetry and matching the sides of the wheel. Groups that didn't line things  up correctly had wheels with sides that warped and this kept the wheel from turning! What a great learning experience!
Yep, I'm going to say that the above group didn't quite match up their wheel sides correctly.

That Tricky Axle

Another big thing that kept happening is that an axle had to go through the wheel. This meant the kids had to leave an opening! Some groups paid no attention to this minor detail and ended up with the center of their wheels being a stack of craft sticks, but no place to thread the axle. And, yes, they took that apart and started over. This was a fabulous challenge for persistence! In the photo below you can see a center area that worked perfectly. However, that wheel still has a mistake!
STEM Challenge: Build a hexagonal Freris wheel! Look closely at the photo. Can you spot the mistake? It's not a hexagon. That Ferris wheel has SEVEN sides!
Some of our mistakes were really interesting. Look closely at the photo above.
Can you spot the mistake?

It's not a hexagon. That Ferris wheel has SEVEN sides! But, y'all, look at it. It's pretty perfectly matched and it did work very well! How on earth did that team make a seven-sided shape? Do you know how hard that is to do on purpose?


Major Problem Solving

STEM Challenge: This was an exciting STEM challenge! Even though the Ferris wheels all looked very similar when finished it was still unique to each group. They all approached the task differently.
This was an exciting STEM challenge!

Even though the Ferris wheels all looked very similar when finished it was still unique to each group. They all approached the task differently. Some matched the wheel sides by laying them on top of each other. Some actually measured. Some just eyeballed it and hoped it worked.

This was definitely a trial and error challenge. Thank goodness hot glued craft sticks can easily be pulled apart!



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There is No Such Thing as Too Many Books

"There is no such thing as too many books, there's just not enough time."
And, of course, there are also not enough shelves to hold all those books for me. With these dilemmas in mind, how do you choose books to read? I read reviews! Sometimes reviews lead to me to pick a different book and sometimes I try them even though the review says not to! Think about that as you check my reviews today!
There is no such thing as too many books.....check this blog post for some book reviews! Several are must-reads!
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5 Ways to Prove What STEM is Not

I overheard this one day,

"STEM is just fluff. All they do is play and build things!"

Grrrr.......Well, I decided to arm myself with information and my own experiences and see if I could help you with a few things!

I started reading articles about STEM and realized there are still some misconceptions out there....this is similar to my Myths About STEM post, but here we go with some things that STEM is Not!!
STEM is a lot of things: Collaboration rich, fun, creative, full of team work, and so much more. But, there are definitely some things that STEM is NOT. STEM is not totally spontaneous, or just fluff, or cookie cutter projects. Here's a blog post explaining this and more!,,

STEM is a lot of things: 

Collaboration rich, fun, creative, full of team work, and so much more.
But, there are definitely some things that STEM is NOT. Let's take a closer look:
  • It's not spontaneous.
  • It's not cookie-cutter.
  • It's not just building stuff.
  • It's not just fun!
  • It's not just about construction!

There's a place for spontaneity...but,

STEM Challenges are really easy, however some advance planning and prep is always needed. Throwing something together at the last minute might not be a great idea. Check this blog post for more about things STEM is not!
Before you panic about this statement, let me explain. You know how sometimes when you walk into your classroom you have no clue what you are going to do that day. C'mon, you know this happens. And then you throw something together and somehow it works. Well, STEM doesn't work like that!
Well, it can, but it's much more likely that you will need to think about a STEM activity with a day or two to plan for it. Gathering materials is necessary and maybe grabbing a parent volunteer or organizing things a little differently.

Can you throw something together on the spur of the moment?
Well, yes.

To be completely honest I invented a STEM challenge one day in about 5 minutes by just going through my cabinets and pulling out materials I thought would work. It's called Building Boats.True story.

HOWEVER, I have the advantage of being the STEM lab teacher and I have 43 cabinets, all full of 
materials. If you really want to start with STEM I am here to help you, but do plan on thinking about the challenge, gathering materials, and getting your kids prepped for this adventure. They will take care of the rest!

Projects do look a little bit alike..... but

STEM projects might use the same materials, but the final structures are very different. Expect students to use their own special talents and thinking to make their models unique! Definitely not cookie cutter projects! Check this blog post for more things STEM in NOT!
Let me explain again: A few years ago I had my third graders making "Moon Newspapers". It was a fabulous idea. Each student had a large piece of paper folded in half to resemble a newspaper and they had to have a title, like The Lunar Daily, and then articles about a whole list of moon events. It included drawings of the first moon landing and phases of the moon. You get it, right?

So, when these were finished we hung them in our hallway and they looked amazing.

But they all looked EXACTLY ALIKE.
Cookie cutter.

Here's the thing. STEM structures aren't like that. They are all different. Even when the groups have the exact same materials they will build something different. And 9 times out of 10 what they build is completely different than what I expected. Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Toothpick towers! Students all have the same supplies, but they build completely different structures! Each group adds its own special ideas!

Those are all toothpick towers and use the exact same materials- but kids approach this task very differently. Definitely not cookie cutter (or playdough)!
"Expect the unexpected and designs that will astound you."

Yes, you do build some things in STEM... but,STEM is not just about building structures! Actual science standards are followed in STEM Class! Check this blog post for more information!

Grrrr....."All they do in STEM class is just build stuff."
Let's knock that little statement right out of the park, okay. I have science standards to cover. Yep.
Not only do I have science standards for my state, I also have the NGSS standards. I am sure you would like an example! Take a look:
Photos are from an exploration we complete in STEM ! It takes about three weeks to go through testing mystery powders and watching chemical reactions. It includes the amazing Insta-Snow and a fun little event called "Elephant Toothpaste".
Photos are from an exploration we complete in STEM! It takes about three weeks to go through testing mystery powders and watching chemical reactions. It includes the amazing Instant-Snow and a fun little event called "Elephant Toothpaste". It is not just about building. 

Here's another one:
This one is all about chemical reactions, too. And it also just happens to be a design project. Kids spend two weeks experimenting with pancake ingredients and then their testing data is use to make the ultimate pancake.
This one is all about chemical reactions, too. And it also just happens to be a design project. Kids spend two weeks experimenting with pancake ingredients and then their testing data is use to make the ultimate pancake. 

Conclusion: We don't just build stuff.


Kids love STEM... but,

STEM Challenges are fun, but that is not all they are! It's not all play. It's a LOT of hard work, terrific thinking, problem solving extreme, and collaboration rich!
Here's another thing I have overheard about STEM.

"All they do is play and have fun. No wonder kids love it so much!"

Half of that is true. The other half is something STEM is NOT. It's not just fun! It's hard work. It's thinking and planning and going through the steps of the engineering design process. It's re-doing parts of your structure when it doesn't work. It's frustrating and aggravating when things don't work the way you expect and you have to start over. 

Does that sound like just fun?
Take a look:
STEM Challenges are fun, but they are also hard work. The team in the photo has learned that stacking those craft sticks in the center of their Ferris wheel is not going to work. They had to pry them apart and start over!
Kids are building a Ferris wheel. Total fun, right?
Well, it was fun, but the group in the photo forgot one tiny part of making that wheel. It needed an opening in the center for the axle on which the wheel turns. They had to take it apart and start over.
They left an opening on the second try. Here's what happened next:
STEM Challenges are fun, but also frustrating. After starting over because they didn't leave a hole for the axle of this wheel, the team in the photo made the hole too large. They fixed this by closing the gap with pieces of craft sticks!
The opening was too large and the axle floated around in the hole and the wheel would not spin very well. So, what did they do? They added pieces of craft sticks around the opening to close the gap enough to make it work.

Totally problem solving at its best. Can't say it was all fun, however. This happens daily in our STEM class. It's not all play. It's a LOT of hard work, terrific thinking, extreme problem solving!

Like I said we do build things... but,

STEM is about construction, building, designing, but we do more than that! We write all the time. Reflections, improvements, data tables, graphing, and more. Check this blog post for details!
And the last thing I have overheard or been directly told, 

"You are so lucky! Kids don't do any paper work so you have no grades!"

What? Seriously! We write in Every. Single. Challenge. Remember that engineering design process I mentioned. We start with asking a question and then move into Imagining. Kids write in this step! They also write about their plans and sketch ideas. They write about improvements and then write reflections at the end. Take a look:
STEM Challenges are about more than just building things! We write in STEM Class!
The top left Reflection says, "The hardest part was getting the strings even. We started over like three times." The top right is a graph plotting the results of bungee jumps (with Barbie dolls). The bottom left is a sketch of a Newton's Cradle. The bottom right has the question, "How will you make sure your strings are correct?" The student wrote, "Put a ruler to make sure it is correct."
The writing is often very simplified, but we still write.

We don't just build and play and have fun.
STEM is work.
And we love it!

(This post was the last in a Summer Series!) Click on the titles below to see the other posts!





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Let's Get Organized- 5 Easy Ways

Today is a little peek inside how I organize materials and store things for STEM class! It is rather daunting to think about putting all these materials away- and then being able to find things again or quickly!

Welcome to my Summer Series! This is week 5! Wow, the response to this series has been spectacular and today's post may give you a few more ideas!
STEM class uses a great variety of materials and these are stored and used repeatedly. Here's a great blog post giving you some ideas for organizing those materials!
Let me assure that I am not claiming any mystical powers for organizing and my ways may not work for you. But, on the other hand, these tips may help you or get you started!
So, let's get going!

Think logically!

First, and foremost, think about storing your materials in a logical format.

How to organize materials for STEM is the focus! Read more about storing things logically and keeping an inventory on this great blog post!
Let me explain. 

The lab I use has two entire 30-foot walls covered with cabinets- like a really big kitchen. When I took over the lab all the cabinets and drawer spaces were full. They were full of a huge amount of things, but all of it had been put away in no specific way. Like, a drawer might have latex gloves, foil, and string in it. And a cabinet might have microscopes, balloons, and measuring tapes. Get it? No order whatsoever! Given the number of materials and storage spaces, I knew I was going to need to place things more carefully. So, first I emptied every cabinet and drawer and laid everything out on big tables --- in categories.

Then I started to put it all away carefully- in logical categories. Take a look at that photo above. That's my measurement cabinet. Everything in it concerns some form of measurement- measuring tapes and reels, thermometers, scales of all kinds, rulers, timers, calculators, and more. It makes so much sense! And it makes everything easy to find.

Unless you have ten tons of cabinets....which brings me to #2! Keep reading!

Tip 2 is to keep a written inventory!


A time saving tip if you have a lot of science or STEM materials- keep an inventory list! Check this blog post for more organizational tips!
At some point when I was putting things away, even though the storage was logical, I knew I had too much stuff! I knew I would never remember where all of it was. So, I started an inventory notebook.
It will seem extreme to you as you read this, but I promise, cross my heart, I have used this notebook repeatedly in the last few years and it has saved me so much time.

First, I labeled all the cabinets, and you can read about that in the next section. Then I listed the contents of every cabinet and drawer in my notebook- by the cabinet or drawer number. But, it occurred to me that this might not help. What if I needed something specific, like a needle. Where would that be? So, I also made an alphabetical listing. So, if I need a needle, I look at the N page and it tells me the number of the drawer where these are stored.

Oodles of time saved and a bonus of this is that I can also check to see how much of something I have before I purchase new things. It was time-consuming to set up, but now it's a life saver.
So, is tip #3. Keep reading!

Label, Label, Label!

Tip 3 is to have a system for storage so you can find things quickly. All of my cabinets are numbered and the drawers are labeled.

Storing a lot of materials in a science or STEM class requires an organized system! Read more on this blog post!
This way I can find things so quickly. I can also tell kids- get an extension cord and they know how to locate this easily. Without the numbers and labels your organization or inventory list would be a tad useless or hard to use. Again, I arranged all these logically. Number 1 starts at one corner and the numbers just travel down one wall and then on to the other wall of cabinets. Drawers are numbered and labeled in case I later change what is inside them. So, have a number or labeling system to help you find things and I know you already know this and do it. The amount of materials in a STEM class makes it a necessity! And storing all of this is next up!

Tip #4 You cannot have enough storage bins.

SUPER Tip- You need plenty of bins and dishpans for storage in your STEM and Science class! This blog post has more organizational tips for you!
Seriously, every teacher already knows this, but let me tell you how I came to rely on plastic shoe boxes and dishpans so much. The very first STEM challenge we completed was a real learning experience for me! I never in a million years was prepared for us to NOT complete the activity in one class session. So, here I was at the end of class with half completed structures and used materials and somehow I needed a quick plan for what to do. So, I grabbed those blue dishpans and gave each group one. The kids stored their lab folders in the bins and their partially finished things and then the bins were stored on the shelves of their lab tables. The next week the teams just retrieved their bins and kept working. Try the Dollar Tree for dish pans, but if you need plastic shoe boxes they are better quality and less expensive at Wal-Mart. And you will need these! Trust me on this!
(On a side note, one of the storage drawers in my lab has about 20 hot glue guns in it and you will need these, too! For a while, I stored these in a large zip lock bag, but now I have too many for that!)


Tip #5 is about storing student work folders!

How do you store kids' work folders in our science or STEM class? This blog post has tips about this and more organizational ideas for you!
Whether you use folders, composition notebooks, or something else, you are going to need a place to keep these! I have a large metal shelf unit that holds all of our folders in plastic bins. Most of these bins came from the Dollar Tree. I have one for each teacher and the bin holds an entire class set of folders. We use folders because they take up less space than a composition notebook! 

Alright, STEM friends, there are some organization tips for you! Come back next week for the last post in this series!

Click on the images below to quickly get to the first 4 posts of this summer series!







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The 5 Absolutely Must-Have STEM Materials

I know I have said this many times, but the number 1 topic of conversation for me about STEM
is always about the materials!

I hear this from other teachers a lot: The materials are too expensive, the materials are hard to gather, I don't have the right supplies, and so on.

Well, let me just tell you that this post is going to help you a lot if you believe any of those things!
Welcome back to my Summer STEM Series! This is Part 4!
Materials for STEM class seem daunting, but they really are not that difficult! This blog post will give you some must-have supply ideas that will get you started at a small cost- or even free!

Easy and Free!

Let's start with the free material that is the easiest to gather and very versatile!
Cardboard! Believe it or not, we use boxes and cardboard pieces all the time. We use the boxes for many challenges because we need a box (like the Baked Potato Company challenge or Build a Bird Feeder Challenge). 
STEM Challenge: It's the Great Baked Potato Delivery Company challenge. Kids create a delivery box that follows specific constraints and an advertising campaign for the company. This also includes cooking and testing the potatoes!
In the Food Delivery Company, students need boxes to use as the delivery containers. They decorate them, write and perform a commercial, cook and test the food, and it is fabulous!
STEM Challenge: Build a bird feeder that follows some specific constraints. Part of the presentation is filling it with bird seed and hanging it!
For the bird feeder challenge, students need boxes to use for the feeder or pieces of cardboard to make parts of it!

I also take boxes and cut them into pieces to be used for many things- bridges need cardboard!
Another cardboard piece that you will use a LOT- tubes. Yep, good old toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Here's a vintage post about one of the ways we used cardboard tubes: Marble Runs!

So, how is this FREE?
Easy-peasy- ask parents to send all of this stuff. When you mention that it is a free material they can send, I promise you will get tons. I have so many cardboard tubes I may never need another one! Here's another idea- ask a local hardware store (like Home Depot) to save boxes for you. They will also save the industrial size tubes for you!

Tin Foil, AKA Aluminum Foil

This material is another that is so versatile and we use it all the time! ALUMINUM FOIL!
Materials for STEM! Here's one that we use all the time- simple aluminum foil! Check this blog post for more ideas about the STEM materials that are must-haves!
That's right- just foil. I get boxes of foil at our Dollar Tree in packages of 30 pre-cut sheets. You would not think that matters, but it is extremely helpful to have the pre-cut sheets. Trust me on this.
We use this for so many things.....boats, towers, platforms, slides, the food delivery company, and more. Take a look:
STEM Challenge: Using some basic materials can you build a water slide that will not leak and carry a small toy to the bottom? Spectacular trial and error will make this so much fun for your students!

In the water slide challenge, students used foil as a waterproof covering for their slides. The team in the photo learned the hard way that the foil needs to be on the inside of the cardboard tube (see we used those tubes again)!

So grab some foil or, better yet, mention this one in a newsletter that you send home. Dollar store shopping moms will pick up a box of the sheets for you!

You cannot have too much tape!

This material is a must-have, gotta have it, you won't make anything without it supply.
It's MASKING TAPE!
STEM Materials- the most important supply we use on a daily basis is masking tape. Check this blog post for more must-have materials and hints about getting them!
I promise cross-my-heart we have used enough masking tape in the last three years to circle the globe. Really.

We use it every day and for almost every single project.
Sometimes we use too much.....
STEM materials are easy to gather, but you really do have to work on managing their use. Obviously, this team used a little bit more tape than seems necessary. Check this blog post for more about the must-have STEM materials!
But, I know a secret about using masking tape that will help you with this problem.

Are you ready? Limit the amount! Duh, right?

So, here's the secret part: How do you limit it and how do you measure it? ( Because that seems time-consuming) Here's how- for most challenges, I limit the students to 1- 3 feet of tape. I tear off the amount and stick it to the edge of our lab tables. To measure it I use the floor tiles which are 1-foot tiles. I just eyeball the length by using those tiles as a guide. The kids actually have a person in their group that is the "Tape Manager" and that student cuts the tiniest amounts possible in order not to run out of tape. They are expert tape managers.

(By the way, did you notice the cardboard tubes in that photo. Yep, more tubes...)

You can build anything with straws!

Now, let me tell you the story about straws......
STEM materials are easier than you think! Check this blog post for hints about straws and a few other must-have materials for your STEM class!
About a year ago I decided that since we use straws quite often (like daily) maybe we should add this item to our school supply lists.
Which led to this:
STEM materials are easier than you think! Check this blog post for hints about straws and a few other must-have materials for your STEM class!
Y'all, that is 4000+ straws. That's how many straws the parents sent in. But, just look at all that deliciousness. and boy did we use them this year.

Just look:
STEM- just look at how many things can be built with a very simple materials- STRAWS! Check this blog post for more ideas and hints about must-have STEM materials!
Pretty incredible, I know.

If you need the absolute best straw you can get- try the Dollar Tree. A pack of 150-180 is only a dollar and they are longer than the cheap ones from Wal-Mart. You can also add them to your school supply lists- if you have lots of storage space.....

Click {HERE} for a blog post that is all about straws!

Got sticks?

And, last but not least, is the ever popular Popsicle stick, craft stick, tongue depressor.
STEM Materials that you must have is the topic of this blog post. One of those gotta-have-it materials just happens to be craft sticks! Check this post for ideas and hints and more about materials you need for your STEM class!
This is another material we use quite often. Not every day, but often. It can be the main building material or a support for a structure. You can paint it, glue it, color on it, and kids will even ask you to poke a hole in it. (Which you cannot do!)

We have used them for catapults, towers, Newton's Cradles, bird feeders, platforms, and many kinds of bridges. The best part is they are relatively inexpensive. A box of 1000 from Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart is less than $5. That's the narrow version, the fatter ones cost a little more.

Here's a link to a blog post I did about just craft sticks if you need more proof: Craft Sticks

So, there you have it, my friends. The materials of STEM are not as hard as you think. You can build about anything from straws and sticks and then cover it with foil.

Here are the links to Parts 1, 2, and 3 of my Summer STEM Series!



Come back next week for Part 5!

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