This St. Patrick’s Day activity is a leprechaun trap STEM challenge classic almost as old as time, so I’ve added a twist and a few extensions to keep it fresh!
Premise of Leprechaun Trap STEM Challenge
Working against a criteria & constraints list, and armed with a Leprechaun Lore List, students create a design to lure and safely trap & contain a leprechaun!
Materials for Leprechaun Trap STEM Challenge
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- Small cups or bowls (1)
- String/yarn (24 – 36 in.)
- Shoeboxes, cereal boxes, tissue boxes and/or or cardboard scraps (distributed evenly among groups)
- Tape (12 – 24 in.)
- Cotton balls (5 – 10)
- Rubber bands (5 – 10)
- Lunch bags or plastic baggies (1 – 2)
- Foil (~12 in. sheet)
- Paper and markers
- Leprechaun Lore List (included in resource)
- Design analysis handouts (included in resource)
- Leprechaun (1)
- Single hole punch
- Pipe cleaners (5 – 10)
- Craft sticks (5 – 10)
- Paperclips (10 – 20)
- Straws (5 – 10)
- Brass brads/fasteners (4)
- Toothpicks (10 – 20)
As you may already be aware, I’ve found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about this St. Patrick’s Day activity and Leprechaun Trap STEM Challenge, Leprechaun Lockdown. However, if you prefer to read, you’ll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.
Are There Other St. Patrick’s Day Activities & Challenges Like This?
Of course! I can’t help myself! You’ll find all five of the St. Patrick’s Day activity STEM challenges I’ve created in the 5-challenge bundle briefly described in this post. Each challenge post is linked there for the walk-through videos and more details. You can also find this Leprechaun Trap STEM challenge, Leprechaun Lockdown, alone (top left) or in a bundle of 5 St. Patrick’s Day STEM activities (top right). You may also like the Planetopia Project STEM Challenge Bundle & the Spring & Easter STEM Challenge Bundle. Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students’ leprechaun trap STEM projects on Facebook & Instagram!
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Hi there, and welcome to the St. Patrick’s Day STEM Challenges. We are kicking it off with a classic, Leprechaun Lockdown. It is a trap with a twist, but before I get ahead of myself, let’s check out the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle. This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I’ve defined each step in another video. I’ve added a pop-in card to that video here, as well as, a link in the description.
You don’t need to get every single thing that I showed, but it’s good to have a lot of different variety because then you’re going to have more variety in what the students produce. The one thing you will need is something to symbolize leprechauns, since we can’t ask for any to come to our challenge on demand. Since leprechauns move quickly, I like to symbolize them with something . rolling, so a bouncy ball, a marble, even a grape will do. You can even try ping pong balls, but because they are so light, some of the ideas for the student traps wouldn’t work as well with a ping pong ball, but that might be a reason to try it.
The criteria and constraints start out pretty simple on this one. The students need to lure the leprechaun, and then they need to safely trap and contain him. The main constraint is that their design has to be hands-free. Now, there are different levels of that. Base level is just you can’t reach out and grab the leprechaun. That still allows the student the opportunity to throw something over the leprechaun or put an obstacle in his path. To move that up a level, the trap would need to work whether you were present or not, so completely hands-free and triggered by the leprechaun.
The idea of building leprechaun traps has been around at least as long as I was in school, and I’m sure quite a bit longer, so I like to throw in a little bit of a twist on mine and add what I call a leprechaun lore list. Now, you remember in the criteria that the students had to lure the leprechaun. Well, I require that they use one to three elements from the leprechaun lore list in order to do so. You can have student research and create their own leprechaun lore list, or you could create one and have the whole class use the same one, like the one that I will show you right now.
One of the items on the list I did not want to put on the list, and that’s that leprechauns can vanish into thin air. I thought, “How on earth are student going to work around that?” But as I was reading about leprechauns, it was pretty clear it was on every single list, so it felt disingenuous not to include it.
Before I conducted the challenge for the first time, I wanted to have some workarounds in case students had too hard a time with that item. The first thing I did was I only required students to use three items from the list, so they could skip that entirely if they wanted to. The second thing I decided to do is use Superman as an inspiration. Superman has super strength except when Kryptonite is introduced, so I figured I would sort of ease that into the conversation with students that leprechauns can vanish into thin air, except … Then let them finish the end of that sentence, and then we’ll incorporate that as part of the leprechaun lore.
The first time I conducted this challenge, though, the students really surprised me because they embraced the idea that leprechauns can vanish on command. Several groups created a trap that was more like a leprechaun paradise, that it would be so nice that the leprechauns wouldn’t want to leave. I thought that was so clever, and I almost didn’t include that on the lore list, and I would have missed out on the opportunity and robbed the students of their opportunity to be so clever.
Let’s talk about some ways to increase difficulty. The first thing you can do is require that the students incorporate more of the items from the leprechaun lore list, or require that one of the items they incorporate be that leprechauns can vanish into thin air. You can require that the traps work whether the leprechaun is rolled into the trap or whether it’s bounced into the trap, so by land or by air.
You can use a variety of leprechauns, because some traps might work very well with the bouncy ball but not as well with the grape, or a ping pong ball, or a marble. As I said earlier, you can require that the trap works even if you are not present, so entirely hands-free, triggered by the leprechaun. You can also require students build their traps to scale based on what we know from the leprechaun lore list.
To measure the results on this, you’ll have students release the leprechaun four times and record their success rate. If you require the trap work by land and by air, then record both success rates. On the list, I have incorporated the fact that leprechauns are cobblers, they enjoy music, dancing, and pranks. Let’s test it out.
Students are actually demonstrating their designs; I encourage groups to ask questions of other groups. They might ask, “Well, now why wouldn’t he just disappear?” This design actually doesn’t
incorporate that piece from the leprechaun lore list. Then they might ask, “Well, even if he can’t vanish, why wouldn’t he just climb out?” That’s where students can explain that maybe this is very slippery, or maybe this acts like a pitcher plant or a Venus fly trap. Definitely let them explain their thinking.
To extend on this one, the first thing you can do is assign each group a buddy group and have them test each other’s design. The reason that you want to do that is because they’re more likely to exploit design flaws on someone else’s design than their own, and that can help them with the next iteration. Another fun thing to do if you’re looking to incorporate Language Arts is have students expand on the leprechaun lore list, and they can entirely make that up.
The same way that vampire lore has evolved over time, so too can leprechaun lore. You can have the students incorporate their new ideas and the original ones from the list into a narrative writing piece. Think about it, they already basically have the setting and the problem taken care of, as well as one of the main characters, so some of those, “I don’t know what to write” problems will not be problem.
If you have older students, I think this is actually a really cool opportunity to introduce terminology like theories and hypotheses, and talk about the difference in their scientific meanings and in the way that people use them in everyday language. Then once they’re very clear on that terminology, I would have them consider how they would respond to somebody who said to them,”Oh, I have a theory that leprechauns exist.” You can consider actually splitting the class or splitting groups, and have them debate the validity of such a statement, “I have a theory that leprechauns exist.
Just to be clear, I am not trying to blur the line between science and fiction. I’m trying to give students an opportunity to apply scientific reasoning to topics they wouldn’t ordinarily, or they probably haven’t heard other people doing so, so the arguments are authentic. They’re developing them on their own. You have what you need in order to conduct Leprechaun Lockdown in your classroom, but definitely check out the resource. There are a lot of goodies in there.
This time saving resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You’ll still need to gather the simple materials, of course, but the rest has been done for you. You’ll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM Challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Leprechaun Lockdown materials list.
In Teacher Tips, you’ll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the criteria and constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You’ll find an editable Criteria and Constrains list so you can tailor the challenge to your students, as well as a leprechaun lore list.
For Student Handouts, there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condense space paper saver version. You’ll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts, you’ll find math handouts to practice dividing by 2, identifying fact families for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and equivalent fractions, decimals, and percents, as well as process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of a discounted St. Patrick’s Day and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video.
Also, make sure you don’t forget to like and subscribe. I will be back next time with Challenge number 2, Guard the Gold. See you next time.