Why This Might be the Perfect STEM Challenge

The fabulous marshmallow bridge challenge is the perfect STEM activity. This is one we have repeated so many times and each time is a little different. The things that stay the same are the reasons it is so perfect.
  • The materials are easy.
  • Prep work takes about 2 minutes.
  • The engineering design process is evident.
  • We use blueprints!
  • Kids love it.
Take a look!

Let's talk about prep work and the materials first.

I will tell you the truth. Always. Sometimes, preparation for STEM challenges is time-consuming and involves cutting, gathering, determining a way to dispense materials, planning for management of the class during the time, and so much more. I have a post about Pancake day that will give you more details about all of that. But, if you are like me, you sometimes need something you can throw together quickly and easily and maybe even leave with a substitute.

The marshmallow bridge is the answer! It takes two materials and I have a secret way of getting those ready. The kids need a specific number of toothpicks and marshmallows. 
STEM Challenge: Easy prep and easy materials and great fun!
SECRET: I don't count those materials. I just give each group a cup full. In all the times I have tried this challenge the kids rarely ever run out of either material, so I don't spend time counting toothpicks!

Can kids draw a blueprint?

You betcha! They are excellent at drawing their ideas. What I have also found intriguing is what happens when you insist they use those blueprints.
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!
Look at the team in the photo above. Their structure is exactly like the blueprint! Check the one below, too!

STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!

In the photo below, the bridge is spanning the distance across a plastic shoebox. This is a new tactic we tried recently. These bridges cannot span a very large opening and the width of the plastic container was the perfect distance!
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!

Kids love this challenge!

Another honest thing I can tell you is this: marshmallows are sticky. So, we have learned to keep wet washcloths at our tables.This helps clean off sticky fingers and spots on the tables. Even with this little problem kids love this challenge. The group in the photo below was doing a perfect job following their blueprint and I overheard this comment,

"This is so easy! I'm about ready to start building the sides of the bridge."

They were so excited and their bridge looked great.
STEM Challenge: Kids use a blueprint to construct a bridge! Easy prep and easy materials!
Moments later I snapped the photo below. The whole bridge collapsed!

STEM Challenge: Even when the bridge collapsed kids kept working to complete this STEM challenge!

Remember in the beginning of this post I mentioned this challenge is the perfect STEM challenge. Here's one more reason I say that. After that bridge collapsed, the student holding it said,

"I knew I should have doubled those toothpicks. Here, help me hold the sides in place so I can start reinforcing these spots!"

They didn't give up. They went right back to work and kept making adjustments until their bridge was finished.

It doesn't get much better than this! Perfect!

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