Students explored STEM challenges during lunch

Students in Alcona County explored lunchtime Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) challenges, allowing them to express their creativity while developing problem-solving skills and critical thinking.

This STEM lunchtime challenge involved building a platform suspended between three cups that could hold a fourth cup using the least number of craft sticks possible – with the cups placed too far apart for just one craft stick to reach!

This STEM lunchtime challenge involved building a platform suspended between three cups that could hold a fourth cup using the least number of craft sticks possible – with the cups placed too far apart for just one craft stick to reach!

During the past school year, Michigan State University Extension joined Alcona Middle School and High School students for lunch each month, supplying a new engineering challenge each time. The challenges were designed to encourage innovative thinking and were completed quickly during lunch.

The first activity challenged students to build a platform suspended between three cups that could hold a fourth cup using only jumbo craft sticks. Sounds simple enough, until the youth discovered the cups were placed so that a single craft stick could not span the space between any two cups. The number of craft sticks students could use was unlimited, however they were asked to consider the cost of supplies. Youth were challenged to build a strong platform using the least number of craft sticks possible. A number of ingenious middle and high school students were able to build a strong platform using only three craft sticks!

The next visit brought an activity that challenged youth to explore the center of gravity. Youth were asked to show they had found the center of gravity by balancing a fork and spoon on the edge of a cup with only the aid of half of a craft stick. The challenge came when students were informed the combined fork, spoon and optional half craft stick could only touch the edge of the cup at one point. A number of students found the center of gravity of the system and found creative ways to balance the system on the edge of their cup.

STEM lunchtime challenge

This STEM lunchtime challenge had youth explore the center of gravity using a fork, spoon and a cup.

The following visit found students excited for the new challenge. Students eagerly explored how to take a single section of newspaper (eight full sheets) and masking tape to build a table that would hold a textbook above the floor. Youth explored a variety of creative and unique table styles to successfully support the book.

STEM lunchtime challenge

This STEM lunchtime challenge had youth construct a table out of newspaper that could hold a textbook above the floor.

The final challenge of the school year introduced the students to aerodynamics. Students were supplied with a straw, index card, tape and scissors, and were asked to build something that would fly at least 10 feet. After defining flight as obtaining lift or gliding, students started the challenge building paper airplanes with the straw included in the body of their design. With the extra weight and shape of the straw, these initial designs were not very successful. There was a level of frustration as students struggled to move beyond their current frame of reference, paper airplanes. Some stuck with the challenge and discovered that circles of varying sizes taped to the straw gave significant lift and flew with little applied force over 10 feet.

Lunch time STEM challenges provide youth with the opportunity to express their creativity while developing problem-solving skills and critical thinking. They also practiced self-assessments skills as they designed, tested and critiqued their ideas. By bringing STEM to school during lunch, MSU Extension is able to reach many youth including a number of youth who have had no experience with 4-H.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the MSU Extension Science and Technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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