Adding Rigor to a STEM Challenge - with the Elevator Express

There is always a back story to the STEM Challenges I invent. This one is a novel-length story.

Just kidding. But, it is an on-going story. I tend to change the rules to tasks and even the materials sometimes.

And that changes everything. But, guess what! It makes me re-think the challenge, add rigor to it, create a new problem-solving opportunity for students, and it is never boring!

So, hold onto your hats, friends, and leap onto the Elevator Express with me!

STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

THE STORY

This challenge was invented in the middle of September one year and we tested it during that month. Now, if you read this space very often you know that I always have a test class. That class is the first to try anything and they help refine the rules of the task and they help me decide if the materials are the right ones.

Folks, kids love to be the test class. Even if I change the rules right in the middle of the class, they love it. So, can I just tell you how much they loved doing a Halloween project in the middle of September! Well, they did! #really

The test class helped make a few revisions to my invention of the elevator challenge, including these:
  • We used two different types of buckets.
  • One bucket meant you also had to build a platform.
  • I insisted we add a cranking device to it.
  • Then we totally changed the building materials.
I will explain! (Remember, I did tell you that this would be a novel).

THE BUCKETS

My original idea for the bucket that would be used for the elevator ride was a black kettle or cauldron.

Truth: I only thought of that because I found the cute little kettles at the dollar store.

STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

Well, the test class was lucky and they used those black kettles. This turned out to be too easy! All they had to do was tie a string to the handle and lift the kettle.'

So, I pulled out a second 'passenger' for the elevator. A plastic pumpkin! This changed everything. Wow!

THE PLATFORM

Adding that plastic pumpkin (that did not have a handle) meant the students had to design and build a platform that the pumpkin could sit on to ride to the top of the elevator.

STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

This also meant we had to add to the materials. We added straws and craft sticks and students started building the pumpkin passenger device. This turned out to be interesting. A flat platform worked only if the strings holding it in the elevator were spaced correctly. Otherwise, the platform would tilt and dump the pumpkin.

Take a look at the photos above. The photo of the pumpkin has a great platform, but the green strings that will be used to pull up the platform are centered. This means the platform will tilt.

So, they built side rails out of straws (bottom right).

The photo on the left is showing a very clever use of straws. The box we were using as the elevator shaft kept tipping over, so this team made a 'stick' that would help support it!

Now, how did we lift the passenger for this elevator?

THE CRANK

My original thinking about the elevator was that students would have a piece of string and invent their own way to use it lift the passenger. And, they did. Most of them cut a hole in the top of the elevator shaft box and threaded the string through it. To lift they just pulled the string.

Well, you know what I thought! That was too easy.

STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

So, I changed the rule. The string had to function as part of a cranking device. Again, this changed the challenge a lot. But, look at those photos. The students made the best cranking devices for this and they worked.

They cranked. The string wound around their device and the elevator lifted!

DIFFERENT MATERIALS

Okay, flash forward to a new school year and we attempted this challenge again. But, I changed the materials drastically! We no longer used a box as the elevator shaft. We just used the tabletop.

Students had cardboard tubes and they had to create a cranking device that would wind up their platform or box from the floor to the top of the table.

STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

We tried a little metal bucket, but those buckets were a little bit heavy. So, we tried building boxes next. That did work better- as long as the box did not tilt and dump out our passengers.

What were our passengers this time?

Well, this was in April- so we tried plastic eggs.


STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific

The most fun part of this new version was watching all of the different ways students used the same supplies to create an elevator that would lift their eggs. 

So, try this fabulous challenge and don't be afraid to alter the rules to suit your students. When I see the task is too easy- I change the rules. When they are struggling, I add materials or tape.



STEM Challenge- build an elevator that will lift an object by using a cranking device. Perfect for upper elementary students. Students must build a platform and a crank that will work to lift a load. #teachersareterrific




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