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:
Individually or in partners/groups, students will design and build the tallest tower possible using symbols of the back-to-school season: apples and school supplies!
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
– Estimate and measure distances in the classroom and around the school in Apples Aloft towers (two teacher-editable versions provided)
– Optional secondary challenge (Apple Abater) with Criteria & Constraints List and Design Analysis slides
Sample/suggested materials for each student or group:
Materials you’ll need to do the activity are easily modified. Amazon Affiliate links are included below. See disclosure.
- Small apple (1)
- Unsharpened pencils (6 – 12)
- Rubber bands (5)
- Pocket folder with prongs (1)
- File folder or pocket folder without prongs may be substituted
- Index cards (5 – 10)
- Tape (12 – 24 in.)
- Paper lunch bags (1 – 2)
- Ruler or measuring tape (for measuring, not a building material)
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 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.
What do teachers have to say about this STEM Challenge? (Comments taken from the printable version on TpT.)
“I did this with my class today and they could not have raved more about it! The kids were so engaged….they didn’t even realize how much engineering they were actually doing! I love how you have the link to the YouTube video as well. It really helped me, as a teacher, to organize myself to teach this lesson! Thank you so much for your hard work.”
“This was the most fun to watch and kids had to really think. We will be doing this every year!”
“Best STEM activity of the year so far….thanks!”
“Great way to extend Johnny Appleseed activities and get students thinking and working together.”
“Great resource! Easily adapted for my grade 2 students as a beginning of the year getting to know you activity.”
Also available in the discounted Back to School STEM Challenge Bundle & on Teachers Pay Teachers.