In the middle school Makerspace classes last week, we had our first team STEM challenge. Which was a way to get the students to practice teamwork, outside the box thinking, and the design process, while also having some fun.
It was a simple challenge: each team received 20 notecards and 3 feet of masking tape. They had 20 minutes to design and build the tallest free-standing tower that they could. Whiteboards were given for design purposes.
There were some basic rules:
1. The tower had to stand by itself for at least 10 seconds.
2. Groups could not tape the tower to the desk.
3. No using scissors or any other tool. Just their brains and their hands.
4. Groups could use all of the supplies, but did not need to.
Groups were given 2 minutes to brainstorm and guess-timate the height of the tower they would build. After the 20 minute build time, towers were measured and groups answered several questions relating to how they might approach the challenge differently next time.
Here are are some things that I noticed:
• I was surprised that two groups, one in each class, chose NOT to use the tape at all. Neither group was pleased with their final outcome but actually built decent towers.
•One group went so far as to name their tower based on their design.
• Several students wanted to tattle on classmates in other groups that were “peeking” or “copying.” Ah, middle school. (At the end of class, we discussed how studying other successful methods of doing something was a part of the business world).
• One class spent a LOT of time asking “can we...” questions instead of building. This was my class of “puppy dogs,” and I call them this when they are so worried about doing something “right” in order to be praised, instead of just trying. One of the goals I have for this class is to help them see that it is okay to fail.
I was proud of the groups for actually working together and listening to each other’s ideas. And some groups did come up with unique ways to build their tower. But I realized that we have some work to do on evaluating process/learning/design when I read some of the responses to “what would you do differently next time to improve your design?” Several groups said, “get more supplies.” Well, not quite the answer I was hoping for.