One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “What STEM Challenge materials should I have in my classroom?”
While most STEM Challenges come with a recommended materials list, you’ll often have plenty of flexibility. You can easily swap out some materials for others and add and delete materials as you see fit.
When you’re just starting out, you might not feel confident in your ability to make those decisions just yet. You might feel like you want to follow the suggestions to a T, and that’s OK too! You do you!
So what’s good to have on hand, in general?
My best advice is to stock up on materials that are cheap & malleable!
Here’s a video I made about it ages ago. I’ve since gotten a bit better at making videos, I hope you agree! This one might be fun to watch just to mock me about it.
My top suggestions are pipe cleaners, foil sheets, soft cardboard, and masking tape. The reason it’s so important to use these types of materials is that students can mold them easily, which results in more creative, different, and innovative designs.
Rigid materials are not easy to manipulate. Using too many rigid materials results in many more look-alike designs, because there’s only so much that can be done with them. That doesn’t mean you don’t ever want to use things like popsicle sticks, hard plastics and strong cardboard. Sometimes those things are called for, but as often as you can get away from using them, I recommend it.
Ask yourself when you’re planning the materials for a challenge, do the students really need corrugated cardboard or wooden sticks here, or could I give them a cereal box and require them to build up the strength themselves through folds, layers, and other methods? Whenever you can have students engineer, let them! Don’t give them too many shortcuts — it’s a STEM Challenge, not a STEM easy!
Here’s a list of my favorite materials to stock up on and always have on hand. It includes malleable materials I’ve mentioned and a whole bunch of other practical materials and tools I LOVE! (Note: this is an affiliate page, which means I get a few cents to support my pipe cleaner habit if you make a purchase.)
What are your favorite STEM Challenge materials? Let me know in the comments!
Want to know where the best materials deals are? Here’s what I learned when I went looking: