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October 1, 2018

October Homework: Full STEM Ahead!

By Nancy Jang
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    October is around the corner and pumpkin decorations are everywhere. The weather is a little cooler and students are excitedly discussing their costumes for Halloween. This is the perfect setting for our first STEM homework assignment: Pumpkin Chunkin' Catapults!

    I build catapults in class with my kids using wooden craft sticks and rubber bands. Second graders need a little help with the rubber bands, so another set of hands in your room on build day is helpful if you teach younger kids. You can also call small groups to the build table if you don’t have any help. Older students can usually manage assembling it without help. I like doing the catapults in class, but I LOVE sending home the STEM projects because then you get more innovation and variation in the finished products.

    The catapults can be as simple or as complicated as the students want them to be. My only restrictions are that they need to be built from recycled materials and must fit on a desktop. I encourage students to try building more than one and test them out at home. In the spirit of Pumpkin Chunkin’ I use Candy Corn Pumpkins in the competition, but a pencil top eraser works just as well.

    When the due date arrives, we test the catapults in our multipurpose room. You will need student volunteers to join the measurement team or be a spotter to confirm the landing spots of the pumpkins. If a catapult breaks, it’s up to the students to problem-solve and repair. This is a good learning experience in and of itself.

    STEM projects allow parents to get involved and have learning discussions with kids. They also motivate students to be creative, use problem-solving strategies, do research, build, test, and most importantly have FUN learning! Each assignment is due after two weeks and as an incentive for completing the activity, students will test their projects in a friendly competition.

    Last year, in addition to our catapults, we had a blast with building boats and bridges that bore weight, rolling cars down a ramp, and erecting paper towers upon which we stacked books. This year, I am adding marble mazes, musical instruments, pulleys, paper airplanes, zip lines, bucket towers, wind-powered cars, a parachute, and a protective container for an egg drop.

    As a reward for excellence, the top three projects in every challenge were put into the Engineering Hall of Fame (a classroom bulletin board) along with a picture of the student together with his or her project. Students also received a certificate from me. I have never seen such excitement and great discussions about the engineering process from parents and students all about “homework.”

    Are you interested in trying a fun and easy STEM project with your class? Here are some editable instructional project sheets for a boat, a bridge, and a car, as well as the catapult, and a STEM journal for you to use.

    Follow my STEM board on Pinterest @sunnyinsocal for even more ideas!

    Our Pumpkin Chunkin' Challenge was inspired by the somewhat more elaborate Punkin Chunkin event you can check out on the Smithsonian Channel of YouTube.

    October is around the corner and pumpkin decorations are everywhere. The weather is a little cooler and students are excitedly discussing their costumes for Halloween. This is the perfect setting for our first STEM homework assignment: Pumpkin Chunkin' Catapults!

    I build catapults in class with my kids using wooden craft sticks and rubber bands. Second graders need a little help with the rubber bands, so another set of hands in your room on build day is helpful if you teach younger kids. You can also call small groups to the build table if you don’t have any help. Older students can usually manage assembling it without help. I like doing the catapults in class, but I LOVE sending home the STEM projects because then you get more innovation and variation in the finished products.

    The catapults can be as simple or as complicated as the students want them to be. My only restrictions are that they need to be built from recycled materials and must fit on a desktop. I encourage students to try building more than one and test them out at home. In the spirit of Pumpkin Chunkin’ I use Candy Corn Pumpkins in the competition, but a pencil top eraser works just as well.

    When the due date arrives, we test the catapults in our multipurpose room. You will need student volunteers to join the measurement team or be a spotter to confirm the landing spots of the pumpkins. If a catapult breaks, it’s up to the students to problem-solve and repair. This is a good learning experience in and of itself.

    STEM projects allow parents to get involved and have learning discussions with kids. They also motivate students to be creative, use problem-solving strategies, do research, build, test, and most importantly have FUN learning! Each assignment is due after two weeks and as an incentive for completing the activity, students will test their projects in a friendly competition.

    Last year, in addition to our catapults, we had a blast with building boats and bridges that bore weight, rolling cars down a ramp, and erecting paper towers upon which we stacked books. This year, I am adding marble mazes, musical instruments, pulleys, paper airplanes, zip lines, bucket towers, wind-powered cars, a parachute, and a protective container for an egg drop.

    As a reward for excellence, the top three projects in every challenge were put into the Engineering Hall of Fame (a classroom bulletin board) along with a picture of the student together with his or her project. Students also received a certificate from me. I have never seen such excitement and great discussions about the engineering process from parents and students all about “homework.”

    Are you interested in trying a fun and easy STEM project with your class? Here are some editable instructional project sheets for a boat, a bridge, and a car, as well as the catapult, and a STEM journal for you to use.

    Follow my STEM board on Pinterest @sunnyinsocal for even more ideas!

    Our Pumpkin Chunkin' Challenge was inspired by the somewhat more elaborate Punkin Chunkin event you can check out on the Smithsonian Channel of YouTube.

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Susan Cheyney

GRADES: 1-2
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