Whose Bounces the Most Times?

Most STEM teachers know the importance of letting students explore, but usually it’s the students who struggle with “exploration”. We have created a a post with ideas, activities, and experiments geared toward exploration, and here is one of those, which can be done with relatively little prep:

Materials
one container (small bowl) per group full of the following:

  • pennies
  • washers
  • rubber bands
  • straws
  • styrofoam pieces
  • balloons (these will pop, so make sure each group has several)
  • paperclips
  • string
  • any other simple items you can think of

Procedure
Put the students in groups of 3-5 and give each group a set of materials (above). Tell the students the object is for the group is to design something that will allow the balloon bounce more times than everyone else’s. (The trick here is that most of the students will start by blowing up the balloons, which they don’t have to do, but don’t specify either way. Just tell them they can use the materials in any way.)

Sit back and let them explore different ways to do this. You may want to incorporate some rules about not being able to answer any questions for the duration of their exploration. Encourage them to keep a journal and write down any questions that they have before trying to solve them as a group by experimenting. If their questions remain unanswered/unsolved at the end of the time period, you may either answer them yourself or encourage the students to do their own research at home.

If you like this STEM Challenge, check out others here.

Neutral Density Exploration

Most STEM teachers know the importance of letting students explore, but usually it’s the students who struggle with “exploration”. We have created a a post with ideas, activities, and experiments geared toward exploration, and here is one of those, which can be done with relatively little prep:

Materials
one container (small bowl) per group full of the following:

  • pennies
  • washers
  • rubber bands
  • straws
  • styrofoam pieces
  • balloons (these will pop, so make sure each group has several)
  • paperclips
  • Legos
  • small wooden blocks
  • any other simple items you can think of

one clear glass or plastic pitcher filled about 3/4 full of water

Procedure
Put the students in groups of 3-5 and give each group a set of materials (above). Explain neutral density (when something neither sinks nor floats in water). Tell the students they have to design something that will sit in the middle of the pitcher that does not float to the top or sink to the bottom.

Sit back and let them explore different ways to do this. You may want to incorporate some rules about not being able to answer any questions for the duration of their exploration. Encourage them to keep a journal and write down any questions that they have before trying to solve them as a group by experimenting. If their questions remain unanswered/unsolved at the end of the time period, you may either answer them yourself or encourage the students to do their own research at home.

This could be turned into a project that expands into several days’ worth of concepts that include outside (independent) research and a journal recording the process.

If you like this STEM Challenge, check out others here.

The Importance of Exploration

Though most STEM teachers know the importance of letting students explore, it’s usually the students who struggle with “exploration”. We are living in a world where students get immediate feedback whenever they make decisions, so they’ve come to expect it, and they’re so afraid or failing that they don’t want to take the next step without knowing what will happen.

Challenge your students or your children to experiment, to explore, and yes, to make mistakes. Challenge them to have a very broad idea of what to expect. If you need to, explain that things like the microwave, silly putty, and even Viagra were invented by mistake, as their inventors were trying to create something else.

Challenge them to answer their own questions by exploring. Whether that means the adult not answering questions for a 30-minute period, or just leaving the room (parents, this option is more for you since teachers wouldn’t be allowed this luxury), push them to find their answers by doing things themselves. One more important piece of the exploration puzzle is keeping a log or journal of what they’re doing. Have them record their hypotheses, their observations, their discoveries, their successes AND failures (very important to experience both), all conclusions, and how they came to each conclusion. This journal should include sketches and ideas, and it should probably look a bit sloppy and disorganized. The idea if for them to develop a strategy and see if it works.

We have created a list of STEM Challenges especially geared toward exploration.