5 STEAM Building Challenges for Your Program

STEAM building challenge

Incorporate more STEAM activities into your program with these 5 building and engineering challenges. In the world of science, there are many ways we can introduce fun concepts that are exciting, challenging, scalable, cross categorical, and inexpensive. Your group can also develop problem solving skills and learn how to work together to complete the challenges.

Engineering with Craft Sticks, Cups, Cubes, and Keva Planks

I wanted to give our customers something they could bring to their programs within budget and allow the maker approach to take flight, while supporting their need to include high level STEAM concepts within budget. Offering simple challenges with visual supports helps instructors teach concepts in engineering, introduce the color wheel, physics, and chain reactions. These challenges were inspired and modified from Pinterest and a blog entitled Frugal Fun for Boys.

We tried these with a group of associates from S&S and they had a blast!

Suggested Materials:

Spread out the materials in the room so everyone has access. Below are some examples of what you can use. The best part of these challenges is everyone can get creative and each project turns out different.

We tried these with a group of associates from S&S and they had a blast!

Challenge #1: Build a structure with one cube as the base

STEAM challenge

For this challenge, you must use one wooden cube as the base of your structure. See how tall or wide you can make your design before it falls. As our group was building their structures, one person asked “Can we support the base with other materials?”. Although the challenge is to use one block, this brings up a great point about how in engineering, you want to build a strong foundation. Your group can discuss this topic while building and you may even want to add a challenge where the group creates a structure with a strong base.

Challenge #2: Build the tallest possible structure

STEAM Challenge

The second challenge was to build the tallest structure using any type of base. A key strategy here was to create a large enough base to support more materials on top and keep building it up. Most everyone in the group used mainly cups to build up their structure, but a few used used blocks and Keva Planks. Have a discussion with the group about how this relates to engineering. Which materials take longer to build with? What materials allow for the structure to be the tallest? Did your structure topple over eventually, and why?

Challenge #3: Practice with balancing – make a structure that sticks out

STEAM building challenge

For this challenge, you can use any base but must create some type of structure that is balancing. This is one of the more difficult challenges, because it takes some planning as to what materials to use and how to balance them. The most popular material for this challenge was craft sticks, because they acted as a balance beam to place other objects on.

Challenge #4: Build a structure with just one cup as the base

STEAM engineering challenge

The 4th challenge is to build a structure with just one cup for the base. By this point, our group had learned a lot about the concepts of building and how to create solid structures. They learned that the density and weight of the materials can really make a difference. Our group utilized all of the materials and did a great job making their structures tall even without a strong supported base. Rianne (pictured on the left) created the tallest structure, even taller than in Challenge #2.

At the end of each of these STEAM challenges, have your group destroy their structures and see how much is standing at the end. You can even make a game of collecting and recreating the structure. Watch the video below as Rianne destroys her tallest structure…you won’t believe what happens!

Challenge #5: Experiment with Chain Reactions

STEAM Challenge chain reaction

A fifth challenge you can present to your group is called a Chain Reaction. This is a great teamwork STEAM activity. Clear everything off of your table (or the floor if easier) so you have enough space for the chain reaction. Place two cups side by side, then place the end of one craft stick on top of one cup, and over lap the other craft stick on top if it, making sure one end is not touching the cup. See the pattern in the photo below:

STEAM challenge craft sticks

Once you have your chain reaction set up, select one person to remove the cup at the beginning of your chain. Watch as each stick falls and causes the cup at the end to tip over!

The Cobra Weave

Bring domino chain reactions to a new level with these cobra weave chain reactions. They are very time consuming but really cool! These also allow you as the instructor to introduce videography.

Here are some more photos of this STEAM Challenge in action at the Recreation Leader’s Conference for Chicago Park District.

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