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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. )
Sample/suggested materials for each student or group:
• 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)
• Design analysis handouts (included)
• Markers or highlighters
• Pipe cleaners
• Notebook paper
• String or yarn
• Glue sticks
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? (You'll find comments below the description and I've included a few comments from the printable version, as the challenge is the same and that resources has accrued more feedback.)
“My students were very engaged in this project. It provided a great team-building activity for the first days of school. Thanks!”
“What a great way to see your students' personalities! This was way too much fun for all!”
“This was a great product to introduce my class to STEM activities at the beginning of the year. It was simple, fun, and challenging.”
"This was SO MUCH FUN!!! I teach 4-8 special education and one of my students said, "This is the best school day ever!" when we finished the activity. Thank you!"
"So much fun! Again, I used it in our after school CLC program with 5-11 year old. All had fun!"
"This was great! I have students from 5th grade to 8th grade and all just loved it."
"Awesome STEM challenge! Perfect for the first week of school or back to school from a break. Thank you!"
"Did this today! The kids ABSOLUTELY loved it and I loved that I was able to pick and choose what I needed to include!"
You might also like these resources:
STEM Challenges & Bundles (grades 2 – 8):
Or these great resources:
Please check out the preview to see the challenge, and don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions!