Frequently Asked Questions

Your burning STEM Challenge questions answered. If yours isn't on the list, comment or message and I'll be happy to answer!

There are a few questions I get quite a bit through my TPT store, this blog, and other social media. Today, I’m covering my top 4. 

Question: Your STEM challenges are listed for grades 2 – 8. I don’t think it’s possible that any activity could be appropriate for that age range; are you full of lies? 

Short answer – It’s totally possible / I’m not full of lies! Because I know this is a very common question and cause for concern, I had a special video made to quickly explain how any challenge can be made appropriate for any age! Watch it here.

For just a little offering of proof, here are a few of the teacher-buyer comments I’ve received on one of my resources, Protect-a-Pilgrim:

“Fun activity to use year after year. It was a great way to challenge my students with learning disabilities (high school). They loved doing this activity.”

“My middle school kids had a lot of fun.”

“So awesome! My firsties really enjoyed this activity.”

“My 7th and 8th graders loved this!”

“Did it with first graders…They loved it!”

Question: Should every STEM challenge be treated as a competition?

Short answer: No, not every challenge. And before you label me as one of those give-everyone-a-trophy-for-trying people, hear me out. I have good reasons, check out the video below. However, if you prefer to read, you’ll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

Question: Should I use a materials budget lists to constrain students in the engineering process?

Short answer: I’m not a fan, so I don’t use them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t or that they can’t be used well. For me, budget lists slow down the process too much without providing a valuable trade-off for that investment of time. However, giving students constraints to design around is a critical piece of the engineering process! I prefer to constrain materials simply by only providing a set amount, as well as constraining other aspects of the challenge rather than implement materials budgets. I explain more in the video above.

Question: What challenges do you have available for ____ (time of year)? / Are you ever going to bundle all of your challenges?

Yes, I finally did create a mega bundle! I have 43 challenges in all. You can see the quick preview of my current challenge library in the brief video below:

Do you have a burning STEM challenge question?

I love to discuss STEM challenges, so feel free to reach out with any questions you might have in the comments, via email, or social media. You’ll find links for all up in the header of this page.

Video Transcription

Hi guys! Today I’m gonna be going over some frequently asked questions I get through my Teachers Pay Teachers store and my blog. So let’s get started.

Question: Should every STEM challenge be treated as a competition? Answer: I don’t think so. So this is a tough one for me, because I am an incredibly competitive person, so my inclination is to always make things a competition. I know, not the healthiest thing. Students who are like me are likely to view all STEM challenges through the lens of competition, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I think competition can be a healthy and great thing, but we wanna make sure that it’s serving our goals. So in order to answer this question I wanna think about the goals of STEM challenges.

Through STEM challenges we want students to become more comfortable with productive failure, we want them to take risks and be creative and innovative, and we want them to always be willing to try new things. Sometimes competition can conflict with those goals. Now, we know that for some students, competition fuels and motivates them, and actually helps them achieve those goals, but we also know that for some other students, competition shuts them down, peaks their anxiety level, it makes them less willing to try new things. It sorts of puts in their mind, failure is not an option, when it’s a competition.

So like all things, you’re gonna need to differentiate. Sometimes it’s gonna be a competition, sometimes it’s not going to be a competition. And I know that I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but this is another area where using multiple iterations will in fact help you serve your goals. You can use the first iteration just as an exploration, and if you decide to hold a competition, do it on the second iteration, or even a third. And that’s not to say you can’t ever have a competition on the first iteration, I would just say don’t do that every time. And just know that the more STEM challenges you’re doing with your students, the more likely they’re gonna become more comfortable with the idea of competition over time.

If I had to sum that one up, should all STEM challenges be competitions? No. Should some STEM challenges be competitions? Absolutely, but it’s up to you to figure out that balance for your kids.

Question: Should I use a materials budget sheet for my students? Some people set up their STEM challenges where each material has a price, so a pipe cleaner costs 15 cents, a rubber band costs 10 cents, and they give their students a total budget for their entire design, of maybe $2.50. This is one way to introduce constraints, which is part of the engineering process, to design around criteria and constraints. The reason I don’t personally put them in my STEM challenges, is that it adds a layer of planning that I find is difficult for students to be able to do until they’ve had multiple iterations of a design, or until they’ve had a lot of general experience with STEM challenges, and it just slows things down too much.

That’s not to say that they’re bad, or that you shouldn’t use them, it’s just that from my perspective it pulls students’ focus away from the design and doing something really creative, and bogs them down right at the beginning of the design, which sort of kills the fun a little bit. That’s not to say that a budget sheet would never be appropriate, I just think, especially for younger students, or for first iterations, it’s not the best way to go.

So if I had to sum that one up, should you constrain the students with a materials budget? I’m just not a fan, especially not on the first iteration. I just find that it slows students down, and limits their creativity at a time when they should be really building on that, and it adds a layer of frustration when down the line they really need an extra pipe cleaner but they bought an extra rubber band. STEM challenges have enough constraints and difficulties and frustrations as it is, so that’s just not one I choose to introduce. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, it’s a completely valid thing to do. I just don’t like it for my challenges, and that’s why you don’t find them in my challenges at this point. If I ever do change my mind about that, I can’t imagine I would ever recommend doing it on a first iteration, but maybe on a second or third.

The last question that I’ve been getting quite a bit was, am I ever going to bundle all of my challenges together? So at this point in time I have 43 challenges, and I did finally put them together in a mega bundle. I will link a little preview of that up above.

If you have some STEM challenge questions you’d like me to answer, feel free to leave them in the comments bellow, or you can contact me through my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or my blog. The links for those are in the description bellow, just click on show more.

Be sure to like this video and subscribe. I will be back next week with the very first of our five Thanksgiving STEM challenges, see you next time.

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