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February 3, 2016

Cupful of Valentine Fun: STEM Kits to Challenge Your Class

By Genia Connell
Grades 3–5

    The Valentine's Day I remember from my youth involved those painstakingly selected boxes of perforated cards you would give to everyone in your class and the little boxes of colorful conversation hearts that suspiciously looked and tasted like chalk. While those parts of Valentine's Day are still alive and well in the traditions of my classroom today, somehow, over the past few years I've turned the celebration into a fun-filled day that looks more like a math-and-science-palooza than a candy fest.

    This week I'm happy to share with you how a Valentine's Day gift to my students — a plastic cup filled with office supplies and valentine candy — kept my students engaged and learning for three hours of class time. Read on to discover how this special cup led to my students collecting and analyzing data to create line plot and horizontal bar graphs, challenged them to build the tallest freestanding tower in the room, and ended the day with a STEM challenge to build a sea-worthy, wind-propelled boat that could safely carry a princess across a moat. 

     

    It All Starts With a Cup

    For Valentine's Day, I gave my students a cup that at first glance looked like an ice cream sundae-shaped valentine treat with the usual pencil and candy inside. My boys and girls quickly realized there was more to the gift, however, when they started noticing popsicle sticks, paperclips, and foil inside their cups. I let my third graders know their sweet looking treats secretly doubled as STEM kits! I told my students to open their "sundaes" and investigate all the materials inside because they would be using the contents for two STEM challenges that day.  

    Students love our monthly STEM challenges so hearing they were going to do TWO challenges in one day definitely raised the level of interest and excitement in the room. The downside? When they realized if they ate any of their candy they wouldn't be able to use it as a building material later in the day. Oh! The tough choices that had to be made! 

    Cupful of STEM funCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of STEM fun

    I selected the materials inside the cup based on the math and science activities I had planned for the day. I tried to think of items that a junior engineer could use to make a boat and tower, as well as materials for a math graphing activity that would help review our measurement unit right before the test. 

    The clear plastic cups with domed lids were purchased in bulk from Amazon, and I filled them with inexpensive items from the dollar store as well as my supply drawers. 

    STEM Kits

    On each cup was a label I created. The image below can be downloaded and copied onto an Avery 5163 label to be printed for your own STEM cups.

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Candy Heart Graphing Investigation

    Once students investigated the contents of their cups, they returned everything to the container except the box of candy hearts. We did the math investigation first just in case the box of candies were "compromised" during the two STEM challenges. 

    Many times over the years I have had my third graders do cutesy graphing with heart candy, sorting by color and shape, which I knew in my heart was fun, but not truly challenging or all that engaging for the majority of the boys and girls in my room. This year I decided to put the candy to work helping my students review for their upcoming math test.

    To begin, students analyzed the contents of their own box of hearts, then wrote a survey question to ask their peers. Data was collected and tabulated, then used to create line plot and horizontal bar graphs on the Candy Heart Investigations sheet below. We shared our findings and students reflected on what they discovered during the survey.

    Math Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Tallest Tower Challenge

    Once the math investigation was behind us, we were on to our first STEM challenge. The students were challenged to work in teams of three to build the tallest, freestanding tower in the room using only the supplies in their combined cups. I displayed the sign below on the interactive whiteboard, explained the challenge, and off they went. 

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    When I decided to use this challenge as part of the day's activities, I was under the impression that it would be the simplest challenge my students had ever faced. Wrong. I assumed most students would start by stacking their three cups (with lids!) on top of each other giving them a starting point of about 27 inches. Well, you know what they say about assuming. As I walked around the room watching students stack their cups inside one another or tie the three cups together three wide and one high, I had to bite my intervening tongue. All I said to each group as I stopped by to observe was, "Can you think of any way to make it taller?"

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    At the end of their work time, we gathered on the carpet where each group presented their tower, and explained the thinking that went into their design plan before an official measurement was taken. Students collected data on each tower and reflected on the work they had done. 

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Build a Leak-Proof, Wind-Propelled Boat Challenge

    Our final challenge of the day was the one students were the most excited about: building a boat out of the materials in their STEM kits. Or what was left of their STEM kits! 

    Students learned the objective of the challenge was to work as a team to build a wind-propelled boat to move a princess across a moat, (a plastic tub filled with water) safely and quickly. If your boat sank, or the princess got wet, the challenge would be lost! 

    Following the directions on the sheet below, students researched density and buoyancy before they tested the items in their kits to see if, on their own, each component sank or floated.

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Stem Kits/content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    Once students built their boats, they tested and redesigned them as needed to improve their speed, seaworthiness, or both!

    /content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    When time was up, everyone gathered around for the "finals." We recorded data on whether the princess stayed dry and how many seconds it took each boat to cross to the other side, if it made it there at all!

    /content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf/content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    At the end, students summarized what they learned and reflected on what they would do differently the next time there was a princess in distress by the side of a moat. 

    While putting together all the materials in the cups can be time-consuming (less so if you can convince your husband to do it for you thanks, Jeff!), the payoff is well worth it. In STEM challenges my students learn that the first try isn't always the best try. At the end of each STEM challenge we do, I'm always amazed at how much my students soak in when I listen to them debrief and I read their written summaries and reflections. 

    If you would like to try other STEM challenges I've created, check out these posts:

     

    "A Valentine STEM Challenge: Catapults and Candy"

     


    "STEM Challenge: Sink or Float Candies"

    The Valentine's Day I remember from my youth involved those painstakingly selected boxes of perforated cards you would give to everyone in your class and the little boxes of colorful conversation hearts that suspiciously looked and tasted like chalk. While those parts of Valentine's Day are still alive and well in the traditions of my classroom today, somehow, over the past few years I've turned the celebration into a fun-filled day that looks more like a math-and-science-palooza than a candy fest.

    This week I'm happy to share with you how a Valentine's Day gift to my students — a plastic cup filled with office supplies and valentine candy — kept my students engaged and learning for three hours of class time. Read on to discover how this special cup led to my students collecting and analyzing data to create line plot and horizontal bar graphs, challenged them to build the tallest freestanding tower in the room, and ended the day with a STEM challenge to build a sea-worthy, wind-propelled boat that could safely carry a princess across a moat. 

     

    It All Starts With a Cup

    For Valentine's Day, I gave my students a cup that at first glance looked like an ice cream sundae-shaped valentine treat with the usual pencil and candy inside. My boys and girls quickly realized there was more to the gift, however, when they started noticing popsicle sticks, paperclips, and foil inside their cups. I let my third graders know their sweet looking treats secretly doubled as STEM kits! I told my students to open their "sundaes" and investigate all the materials inside because they would be using the contents for two STEM challenges that day.  

    Students love our monthly STEM challenges so hearing they were going to do TWO challenges in one day definitely raised the level of interest and excitement in the room. The downside? When they realized if they ate any of their candy they wouldn't be able to use it as a building material later in the day. Oh! The tough choices that had to be made! 

    Cupful of STEM funCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of STEM fun

    I selected the materials inside the cup based on the math and science activities I had planned for the day. I tried to think of items that a junior engineer could use to make a boat and tower, as well as materials for a math graphing activity that would help review our measurement unit right before the test. 

    The clear plastic cups with domed lids were purchased in bulk from Amazon, and I filled them with inexpensive items from the dollar store as well as my supply drawers. 

    STEM Kits

    On each cup was a label I created. The image below can be downloaded and copied onto an Avery 5163 label to be printed for your own STEM cups.

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Candy Heart Graphing Investigation

    Once students investigated the contents of their cups, they returned everything to the container except the box of candy hearts. We did the math investigation first just in case the box of candies were "compromised" during the two STEM challenges. 

    Many times over the years I have had my third graders do cutesy graphing with heart candy, sorting by color and shape, which I knew in my heart was fun, but not truly challenging or all that engaging for the majority of the boys and girls in my room. This year I decided to put the candy to work helping my students review for their upcoming math test.

    To begin, students analyzed the contents of their own box of hearts, then wrote a survey question to ask their peers. Data was collected and tabulated, then used to create line plot and horizontal bar graphs on the Candy Heart Investigations sheet below. We shared our findings and students reflected on what they discovered during the survey.

    Math Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Tallest Tower Challenge

    Once the math investigation was behind us, we were on to our first STEM challenge. The students were challenged to work in teams of three to build the tallest, freestanding tower in the room using only the supplies in their combined cups. I displayed the sign below on the interactive whiteboard, explained the challenge, and off they went. 

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    When I decided to use this challenge as part of the day's activities, I was under the impression that it would be the simplest challenge my students had ever faced. Wrong. I assumed most students would start by stacking their three cups (with lids!) on top of each other giving them a starting point of about 27 inches. Well, you know what they say about assuming. As I walked around the room watching students stack their cups inside one another or tie the three cups together three wide and one high, I had to bite my intervening tongue. All I said to each group as I stopped by to observe was, "Can you think of any way to make it taller?"

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

    At the end of their work time, we gathered on the carpet where each group presented their tower, and explained the thinking that went into their design plan before an official measurement was taken. Students collected data on each tower and reflected on the work they had done. 

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your ClassCupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Build a Leak-Proof, Wind-Propelled Boat Challenge

    Our final challenge of the day was the one students were the most excited about: building a boat out of the materials in their STEM kits. Or what was left of their STEM kits! 

    Students learned the objective of the challenge was to work as a team to build a wind-propelled boat to move a princess across a moat, (a plastic tub filled with water) safely and quickly. If your boat sank, or the princess got wet, the challenge would be lost! 

    Following the directions on the sheet below, students researched density and buoyancy before they tested the items in their kits to see if, on their own, each component sank or floated.

    Cupful of Valentine Fun: 3 STEM Challenges for Your Class

     

    Stem Kits/content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    Once students built their boats, they tested and redesigned them as needed to improve their speed, seaworthiness, or both!

    /content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    When time was up, everyone gathered around for the "finals." We recorded data on whether the princess stayed dry and how many seconds it took each boat to cross to the other side, if it made it there at all!

    /content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf/content/dam/teachers/blogs/genia-connell/migrated-files/stem_build_a_boat_challenge.pdf

    At the end, students summarized what they learned and reflected on what they would do differently the next time there was a princess in distress by the side of a moat. 

    While putting together all the materials in the cups can be time-consuming (less so if you can convince your husband to do it for you thanks, Jeff!), the payoff is well worth it. In STEM challenges my students learn that the first try isn't always the best try. At the end of each STEM challenge we do, I'm always amazed at how much my students soak in when I listen to them debrief and I read their written summaries and reflections. 

    If you would like to try other STEM challenges I've created, check out these posts:

     

    "A Valentine STEM Challenge: Catapults and Candy"

     


    "STEM Challenge: Sink or Float Candies"

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