Why is This Tower Project the Best Ever Challenge?

One of the best challenges you can try in your STEM class is one we have done over and over again. This one is a kid-favorite and a teacher-favorite. There are several reasons you will love this challenge, but I will let a fifth grader explain it better.

"Oh man, our tower was, like 30 cm tall, and then we saw one leg buckling, and we knew it was over. The whole thing crashed. We gotta rebuild, but I have another idea!"

And, by the way, when I inquired about the new idea I was told that they noticed the buckling tower leg and knew those sections needed to be built differently. Folks, this is what it means to learn from your mistakes! And that is just one of the reasons this the best ever challenge? Keep reading!


Do You Love the Girl in Distress Books?

Are you a girl in distress?
I mean, the most stressful thing in my life is when I can't find the coffee flavoring I like.....
It seems, however, that today's authors use a lot, I mean a lot of girl in distress plots...keep reading!

There's a story behind this month's book reviews.

I was standing in the fiction section of Target recently and looking over the popular books. Do you know how many of them have the word "girl" in the title? LOTS! Ever since Gone Girl we have been bombarded with female lead characters in some kind of turmoil and a never-ending fast-paced escapade to get out of trouble. Mind you, some of those books have been good! In fact, I think my favorite of all was....well, I won't say right now because I have some new ones to share this month!

 I have a list of them at the bottom of this post that I can say are great books in this "Girl in Distress" genre! And, just maybe I will tell you my favorite!
Book Reviews! Five books described that you need to read!


5 Proven Ways to Add Magic to Your Classroom

It's never a good idea to step into a classroom without clear, ready lessons. But, one day last fall it happened. I knew we were going to build a treasure box, but I really needed a way to set this up. I immediately thought of a pirate book! The book I was thinking about is a Mem Fox book and I didn't have a copy. So, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book randomly and a new challenge was born. Dare I say it worked like magic?

That's right- magic - just like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! I promise this technique worked and it will work for you, too. It's so simple.
  • Read a picture book.
  • Laugh about it and mention parts in particular. (More about that later.)
  • Tell kids what they will build.
  • Use materials you already have.
  • Share! (Be sure you have a sharing time at the end of the building time!)


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!

7 Unusual Things About Seeds That You Need to Know

When I was a little girl my Popaw had a farm and every spring he plowed his fields with a wooden plow pulled by a mule. One summer he planted so many watermelon plants that he later had to have neighboring farmers come and help gather them with pickup trucks. That was the same summer he told me not to swallow watermelon seeds.

"Young'un if you swallow these little seeds a watermelon plant will grow in your belly."

I believed him and I would rake those seeds out of my slice of melon and leave a pile on the picnic table. I found out later that he would save those seeds and plant them the next spring. Sweet memories!

We have several seed challenges that we love so much and some unusual ideas about them that we learned. (More about my Popaw later.) RIght now, let's talk about seeds!

Are you ready for a STEM challenge that involves seeds? This post will share resources about ways seeds are dispersed, designing a 3-D flower parts model, and designing a bird feeder. Resources include teacher's guides, lab sheet, scoring rubrics, and photos! #STEM #elementary

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