Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Great Pumpkin Slinger - Fall STEM Challenge

Fall festivals, Halloween costumes, and the inevitable piles of candy wrappers left behind on your classroom floor.  (How do they learn to stealthily unwrap it without teacher detection - anyway?!?)  Sounds like that restless period of the fall and a GREAT time to spice things up with a STEM lab.

Students always become engaged with this Great Pumpkin Slinger Fall STEM Activity!  They usually have so much fun that they forget that they are critically thinking and just focus on slinging pumpkin peeps.  And, I have no problem with their denial because I can always see their minds turning.

Students follow the STEM design process steps, which prompts them to find a solution to a problem when given limited time and materials.  Students were asked to design a pumpkin launcher that would catapult the pumpkin peep the farthest distance using rubber bands, craft sticks, a straw, paper cups, index cards,a plastic spoon, and some masking tape.

A student sketch of the catapult prototype.
Each section of this STEM challenge is timed.  The power of the timer inspires students to think critically and work collaboratively!  They might feel panicked at first, if they haven't done a STEM Challenge in this way, but soon they know the clock is still running and choose to get to work.  I notice that there is less time to argue with other teammates and more time to showcase ingenuity.

Once the students have completed the design steps, then it is time to test the catapult prototypes. We quietly launch the pumpkin slingers in the hallway, which is always fun for the students.  Apparently, slinging pumpkin peeps down the hallway feels like we are on some type of top secret mission that might ordinarily get us sent to the principal's office!

The first trial is always interesting for the kids.  Some teams are fairly successful while others realize they really need to make a lot of changes!  The Troubleshooting sections that follow the first trial help to redeem the teams and encourage students to make design changes to the original prototype to yield better results.  Our best result yet was a sling shot model that launched the pumpkin peep 1,407 cm!

This Fall STEM lab motivated even the toughest critics to become engaged.  They might have even said that they loved doing this activity...and if you teach middle school, you know that is hard to come by!

Would your class find this interesting?  Find the lab handout, a teacher lesson plan, and a corresponding SMART Notebook  or PowerPoint file in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Also available for Grades 3-5!  In PowerPoint and SMART Notebook.

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