STEM Challenges can be low cost ways to incorporate learning concepts in your classroom or maker space. One classic favorite of mine are marshmallow and toothpick challenges. We started a Creator Club a few weeks ago. Our kids meet once a week to do hands-on learning projects. We have kids from 4K to 4th grade. As you know that range is wide in abilities. The great news is that there are plenty of activities to do with wide ranges of children. Our first week we dove right in and taught the students how to use hot glue guns so they could build craft stick truss bridges. This past week we had so much fun creating with marshmallows and toothpicks. I created a list of challenges that I dug up from the internet to use. After a successful Club, I thought you might benefit from this list of ideas, too!
A few tips before you try this activity: let your marshmallows get stale. I opened my bags two days early and that was enough to help them get a little crusty and help them stand up better. Because we’re closing in on Valentine’s Day, we had a little fun with some heart marshmallows I found! Using themed marshmallows adds an additional element of interest. We had no problems keeping the interest for an hour with these challenges. Finally, keep some of your marshmallows fresh. In an effort to curb uncontrolled eating of marshmallows, I told the kids that I had fresh, soft, non-crusty marshmallows for them…I don’t think a single kid ate a crusty marshmallow. They did ask me repeatedly for the “good” marshmallows – but I’ll take that over sugared up kids! I handed out marshmallows about 2/3rds of the way through the club time, when I noticed they were getting a little restless. The quick treat break had them back to building in no time and they were engaged and focused even after eating!
We did not get through ALL of these challenges in one night…but I’m happy to have these ideas all in one place for the next time around. Hope it helps you save some time, too!
- Build one dimensional shapes. For younger students this is a great way to reinforce basic geometry. Shapes that worked well for us included: triangle, square, rhombus, rectangle, trapezoid, parallelogram, pentagon, hexagon.
Idea from: Arvindguptatoys.com
- Build three dimensional shapes. The kids went crazy over these. Building pyramids, cubes, prisms, tetrahedrons, and rectangles (I believe the geometry term is hyperrectangle). These small structures were great opportunities for the kids to explore support. Some recognized immediately that their shape wouldn’t stand up with out connecting enough marshmallows and toothpicks. It took others a little longer. We found fun in the falling – but reward in determining how to get it to stand on its own.
Idea from: Arvindguptatoys.com
- Create letters. I see so many opportunities for this from practicing the alphabet to spelling names, to snap words. It may also help reinforce letter structure for those students that sometimes struggle with forming letters. Idea from: Fantasticfunandlearning.com
- Build a house. The kids built simple houses at the beginning, but it didn’t take them long to begin experimenting with adding on and growing their houses (and tree houses!).
Idea from: Simplydesigning.porch.com
- Build a tall tower. Using our shapes in #2, we discussed the importance of stability in a structure. They built towers using different three dimensional shapes. We discussed the strength found in a triangle. A prism shape worked well for creating taller towers.
Idea from: Classroomfreebies.com
- Build a bridge. Once you tackle towers, bridges are a natural transition. This is a good small team exercise.
Idea from: Meredith Vance
- Build a pyramid. Just like the bridges, this is a project best suited for small teams. Students can be challenged with limited marshmallows and toothpicks, or limited by time. This helps them stay focused and on task.
Idea from: Almostunschoolers.blogspot.com
- Create animals. We loved this challenge! The kids created birds, lions, pigs, long dogs and other unique animals.
Idea from: ApartmentTherapy.com
- Design a snowflake. We’re still in the thick of winter, so a snowflake challenge fits the mood around here! I thought the kids would be more excited about this one, but I think if I had older ones they would have gone crazy.
Idea from: Julie Bennett
- Create a sculpture. I often try to build in time to free build. Sometimes I set a theme such as plants, animals, fruit, vehicles, buildings, holiday themed (Valentine’s Day!). Other times I just let them build.
Idea from: Amazingmess.com
- Make a constellation. I loved this idea when I spotted it on pinterest. Students love talking about space. Combining a natural interest with a STEM project can be great fun.
Idea from: Artsymomma.com