Has cabin fever struck your classroom? The Winter Waiter STEM Challenge might just be the antidote! In groups, students will design waiter’s trays to hold “snowy” 3D solids that they’ll test in a winter-themed, indoor relay race!
You don’t need everything you see here. Feel free to substitute or eliminate what you don’t have. More details about materials can be found in the second video below.
Where Can I Learn More?
The video below walks you through all the steps from materials, set-up, modifying the Criteria & Constraints list for your students, measuring results, and lots of extension ideas. If you have any questions after watching, let me know in the comments. If you prefer reading to watching, you’ll find the transcription at the end of the post.
More on Materials
Save Some Time!
In the video, you’ll get all the basics and more to run this challenge, Winter Waiter. In the resource, I’ve put together all the design analysis, extension templates, and given you even more extensions from which to choose. I can tell you, it was a LOT of time and effort put into this labor of love! Why not skip all the heavy lifting and treat yourself to a challenge that’s ready to print & go?! You’re worth it! 🙂
Also available in Late Winter bundles:
Or REALLY treat yourself — and your students — with the STEM Challenge Mega Bundle.
Hi, it’s the very best day of the week, STEM challenge day, and today I have a brand new challenge to help you fight the winter blues. It’s called Winter Waiter, and the premise is that the students are building a weight service tray that they’re going to use to deliver snowy 3D solids during an indoor relay race. Let’s take a second to 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. You’ll find a link to that video in the description below.
As always, there’s no need to provide every single material that you saw pictured, you can always choose subsets. This is a group challenge but in order to make sure that students are able to all participate in the actual building, I have students build at least two trays per group, basically I have them partner up. If you have a group of six, require them to build three trays. One last note, if you want to include spheres, I recommend ping pong balls, you can also use any playground ball, or have students wad up the scrap paper that they have after they cut out the nets.
The criteria and constraints start out pretty simply. The tray must be operably with just one hand and the tray hand may not contact any of the snowy shapes at any time. If you’d like to increase the difficulty one thing you can do is require that the students hold the try above should level. You can also require that the tray be functional with the palm face down so the students have to conduct the race this way. As always, you can decrease the materials that you provide them, especially the tape, and, or, you can decrease the time of the build. There are also a few tweaks you can make to the relay race itself, and measuring results, to increase difficulty, and we’ll be getting right to those.
Let’s talk about a couple of ways to set up the race and then, of course, to run it. Students should be placed in teams of four to six. They will use at least two of their trays in the race. Teams will send one waiter at a time on the relay course. There are two class setup options for the race, kitchen and buffet style. In the kitchen setup 3D solids will be placed centrally. Teams will be lined along the perimeter of the class, their paths will be to and from the kitchen. In buffet style, solids may be scattered anywhere throughout the room. Teams stand along the perimeter, waiters take a full clockwise loop around the class as they pick up shapes. Regardless of set up, each group should have a designated table or area to unload their snowy solids.
A few rules: the tray hand may not contact the solids at any point. If this happens the waiter becomes frozen in place for three Mississippi seconds. During the race your free hand may not balance the tray, or touch any of the shapes while you’re in motion. If it looks like something is about to fall, the student must stop, rebalance it, and then they may begin again. You can add some difficulty here by creating some obstacles in the room. In the buffet approach you can have certain segments around the room where maybe there’s hot lava, they have to leap over, or maybe there’s a section they need to hold their tray while doing lunges. You can do sort of like bicep curls.
There are two options for handoffs between waiters. One, waiters unload their trays and tag the next person in line to start. Then he or she gives the tray to the next member in the team who will be using it. Two, give flash cards of any kind to every group. When a waiter returns he, or she, must unload the tray, and answer one or more questions correctly, before the next waiter in line may begin his or her turn. There are three options for fallen solids. One, it’s lost for that turn but other waiters may pick it up on their turns. Two, waiters must stop and retrieve any shape that falls. Three, waiters may choose whether to retrieve the shape or leave it behind.
If you don’t have a lot of 3D solids for your relay race, then you can limit the amount that students are allowed to pick up each turn, or you can simply decide that the relay race is over when all of the shapes are gone. The other ways you can choose the end the relay race are either by holding a timed race, one minute, or when every student in every team has had a turn, then the race is over even if there are more 3D solids in the kitchen or along the buffet line.
There are a couple ways to measure results here based on the age and standards you’re trying to cover. Here’s an example of a simple scoring system. Students get points for each shape, as well as for all faces, edges, and vertices. You might want to throw in bonus points if the students were able to collect one of every type of shape available. Of course you can build on that by giving them points for things like height, surface area, or volume. Quick note on that, if you’re having the students build these shapes from nets definitely have them take their measurements before they build, because sometimes you get sort of these wonky difficult, sort of edges, to tamp down.
Taking the measurements at that point is kind of tricky. Another thing you could do, if you want to sort of take it up a notch, is after the relay race, then have the students take their shapes and assemble it into an ice castle. You can give them points based on the height, the perimeter, the area of the footprint, volume, even originality and beauty if you’d like.
Now of course you can give students a table to record all of their points, and there’s one in the resource, but if you have older students you might actually think to just give them a list of what they can access points for and require that they create their own data table. Because organizing that information is definitely a skill we’d like them to practice.
For extensions we have quite a few. Of course there’s a lot of balancing going on in this relay race so you can introduce, or review, Newton’s Laws of Motion. You can revisit that idea of building the ice castle with shapes. You can create sort of these mini challenges like create the tallest tower possible using only five shapes. Now you can choose different numbers of shapes, or you can even add complexity by say tallest tower, five shapes, that also has the smallest base. Have students discuss and debate whether or not the point system you used was fair, or did it favor one or more of the 3D solids? Then in groups you can have them actually devise new point systems that actually do favor each individual shape, or that are completely fair.
Then if you’d like you can have the groups present their rules as riddles and see if the rest of the class is able to guess which of the 3D solids that rule is meant to favor. Have students explain how their designs might change if these new point systems were put into place. Of course, you can graph class data. If you want to tie in some ELA, have students write a narrative that sort fleshes out this world where there would be waiters serving snowy shapes to people, or maybe not people. Okay, I’m going to stop myself here.
You are ready to do this challenge in your class, on your own, but if you’d like even more ideas, and to just save yourself a ton of prep time, check out the resource.
This 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 is ready to go. You’ll get aligned Next-Gen Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge how to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the winter waiter materials list. In teacher tips you’ll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the criteria and constraints list, relay race rules, measuring results, and cross curricular extension suggestions. You’ll find an editable criteria and constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students.
For student handouts there are two versions. Four page expanded room for response for younger students and a two page condensed space paper saver version. You’ll also find a set of group discussion questions and 3D solid nets. In the extension handouts you’ll find writing, math, and process flow templates. This resource is available individually in printable and digital versions. It’s also part of the discounted Mega STEM Challenge Bundle coming soon in January 2018, and will also be a part of a five-challenge late winter bundle. Links can be found in the description below the video.
If you happen to post photos of your class doing this challenge on Facebook or Instagram, please tag me. I love, love, love to see them. Make sure you’re following or subscribed so you don’t miss a thing. Hope your week is packed with feel good teaching moments. See you next time.