This back-to-school STEM / STEAM Challenge brings the joy back to your classroom with collaborative, hands-on, brain-busting work (disguised as fun)!
The basic premise:
In partners/groups, students will design and build an apple catcher to keep falling apples from hitting the ground.
Plus, this is a great intro to forces and interactions and Newton’s three laws of motion, which are part of 3rd and middle school NGSS standards! (3PS2-1, MS-PS2-1, and MS-PS2-2)
This challenge is also great for any time of year, but especially in the fall when learning about apples, Johnny Appleseed, or Sir Isaac Newton!
Note: This version is for use with Google Slides in 1:1/paperless classrooms. If you prefer to print and have students complete work with paper/pencil, you’ll want to look at the printable version instead.
If you have questions about which version is right for you, please feel free to leave me a question using the product Q&A below.
NGSS aligned standards, Grades 2 – 8
– Links to STEM Challenge How-To videos
– Materials and timing
– Criteria & Constraints (including modifications to increase difficulty for older students)
– Measuring results
– Post-design extension activities list
– Link to a video walk-through of the challenge
– Criteria & Constraints List (editable version provided)
– Design Analysis
– Discussion Questions
– Process Flow Map
– Create & Solve Math Problems Based on Designs
– Several video slides for broadening understanding of forces & motion
– Estimate, Measure, & Convert Mass Practice (teacher-editable)
Sample/suggested materials for each student or group:
Materials you’ll need to do the activity are easily modified. See disclosure.
- Apple (1)
- Large boxes without lids (at least 10 in. x 10 in. – shoe boxes, shipping boxes, etc.).
- Try to get similarly-sized boxes or supplement the materials of groups with larger boxes.
- For increased difficulty, have students build on a cardboard or foam board base (no raised edges)
- Cylindrical object (1)
- Coffee can, paper towel tube, water bottle, rolled file folder, 6 or more pencils tied together, etc.
- Unsharpened pencils (10 – 12)
- Pipe cleaners (10)
- Small and/or large paperclips (20)
- Rubber bands (5 – 10)
- Tape (24 – 36 in.)
- String or yarn (24 – 36 in.)
- Design analysis handouts (included in resource)
Benefits of this STEM Design Challenge:
– Focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and application of learning
– Helps students develop growth mindset traits like persistence and resilience
– High levels of student engagement
– The potential to hit upon all NGSS ETS standards depending on the depth and number of iterations you choose to implement in your classroom (modifications included)
– Highly flexible and differentiated for materials, timing, grade levels, and rigor.
Each design iteration should be planned for ~60-90 min. if you are including data gathering and analysis rather than just building for fun. If you add extension activities, you will need to adjust timing accordingly.