Back to School STEM Challenge Activity - Apples A-head

Grade Levels
2nd - 8th
Resource Type
Formats Included
  • Zip
19 pages
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  1. These Back to School STEM / STEAM challenges are a great way to build community, establish procedures, and get to know how your kids tick! Plus, they’re a great intro to forces and interactions and Newton’s three laws of motion.You want to start the school year with something fun......something dif
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  3. This back-to-school STEM / STEAM Challenge brings the joy back to your classroom with collaborative, hands-on, brain-busting work (disguised as fun)! 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!The ba
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This back-to-school STEM Challenge brings the joy back to your classroom with collaborative, hands-on, brain-busting work (disguised as fun)! This apple STEM challenge is also great for any time of year, but especially in the fall when learning about apples, Johnny Appleseed, or Sir Isaac Newton!

The basic premise:

In groups, students will design and build a wearable device to balance an apple on their heads, which they will use to participate in an Apples A-head relay race.

– Students will design their headwear in groups, but each will make his/her own (to minimize any lice concerns). They can decide as a team, and based on available materials, if each member will create unique designs or replicate the team design.


Note: This is the printable version. If you are in a 1:1 / paperless classroom, you will want to check out the digital option for use with GOOGLE SLIDES (TM) 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.


Resource includes:

NGSS aligned standards, Grades 2 – 8

Teacher Tips

  • 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

Student Handouts

  • Criteria & Constraints List (color and black & white; editable version provided)
  • Design Analysis Handouts (2-page regular spacing and 4-page expanded spacing for primary students included) (editable and in color and black & white)
  • Discussion Questions (editable and in color and black & white)

Extension templates

  • Process Flow Map
  • Create Math Problems Based on Designs
  • Apple writing templates
  • Gravity research log


This is one of five challenges available at a discount in the Back-to-School STEM Challenge Bundle

This resource is also available in the STEM CHALLENGE YEAR-ROUND MEGA-BUNDLE at an even greater discount!


Sample/suggested materials for each student or group:

Materials you’ll need to do the activity are easily modified.

  • Apple (1)
  • Pencils (12 – 16)
  • Rubber bands (10 – 20)
  • Pocket folder with prongs (1)
  • ------- File folder or pocket folder without prongs may be substituted
  • Pipe cleaners (10 - 12)
  • Paper lunch bags (2 – 3)
  • Tape (24 – 36 in.)
  • String or yarn (24 – 36 in.)
  • Stopwatch or second timer
  • Scissors
  • Design analysis handouts (included)


  • Craft sticks
  • Cardboard scraps
  • Paperclips
  • Foil


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 resource?

“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!”

"My students LOVED everything about this challenge. We did it at the beginning of the year and they are still talking about this project as well as the other ones I purchased along the same lines. So amazing! I'm sure we'll be doing these again!"

“Great way to extend Johnny Appleseed activities and get students thinking and working together.”


You might also like these resources:

Analyze and Interpret Data Unit

Back to School Ice Breaker Activity

Back to School STEM Challenge Activities: 1:1 PAPERLESS Version

Build a Boat STEM Challenge Mini Bundle

Card Tower STEM Challenge Mini Bundle

Halloween STEM Challenge Bundle

Oral and Written Communication Skills Task Cards

STEM Challenges: Year-Round Mega Bundle

Summer / End of the Year STEM Challenge 5-in-1 Bundle


Please check out the video preview to see the challenge, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!


Video preview music credit:

"Carefree" Kevin MacLeod (

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Total Pages
19 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
90 minutes
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.


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