Here’s a fun and easy, NO PREP STEM project idea that is simple enough for Kindergartners, but still great for first and second graders! If the idea of a science project with no preparation at all sounds good to you, you’ve come to the right place!
Here is the idea: all the children have to do is build a bridge with whatever toys, blocks, or objects you happen to have on hand. That’s it- nice and simple! Just have them build a bridge out of anything you’ve got. No gluing, cutting, stapling, painting, or taping. Just build, build, build until you decide that they are done! Then snap a few photos of the fun, take it apart and put it away! (Check out a STEM bridge building project I did with my class last year here. Example below!)
Bridge building is a classic STEM activity, but can be tricky for little ones when done with craft sticks and other materials. However, it dawned on me that these kids could probably do just about any STEM project if they use toys that snap together, such as Duplos, Legos, Magnatiles, Multi-Link Cubes, or even just plain old blocks. So I was thinking that challenging my kids to build things with whatever toys we have on hand would be fun and easy- and very inexpensive as well, considering we already have all of the supplies. PLUS, there would be NO PREP! I love this idea!
“The Pumpkin Bridge” (or Gingerbread Man Bridge, or Whatever!)
Now when we made our bridges, I told them that it was to be a “Pumpkin Bridge.” Or in other words, the bridge had to be strong enough to support a pumpkin. That’s because I happened to have mini pumpkins on hand, and I decided that a Pumpkin Tower was going to be a bit too easy for my second graders, especially since they had built the apple and pumpkin towers last year in first grade. We had already done the Apple Jenga STEM Project this year, and since they had already done that in first grade as well, it went REALLY quickly… and wasn’t enough of a challenge for most of the kids. So I wanted to kick it up a notch. This bridge could support whatever you want, including a Gingerbread Man cookie, an apple, a plastic egg, a ornament, or anything your imagination can dream up. Don’t you LOVE the way it’s so easy to theme these STEM projects???? (Check out my post on combing STEM projects with Holidays Around the World!)
What’s a Bridge?
One problem we had was that some of the kids didn’t seem to know exactly what a bridge was- or at least that’s what I suspected as I watched them build. So I was thinking that the project would have been enhanced if we had discussed exactly what a bridge is FIRST, and read a book about it or looked at pictures of them online. Because I didn’t think about doing this first, I had to go around the room explaining that a bridge and a tower are not the same thing. Then I had to try to explain what a bridge was without a photo. We don’t have any bridges here locally, so I suppose many of the children don’t have direct experiences with them!
Let the Children Choose Their Building Toys
I decided to let the kids with the highest Class Dojo point totals choose a partner and the set of toys that they wanted to use first. I was surprised that most of the girls were not very thoughtful about what they needed to create when choosing a toy. For example, if I needed to make a bridge, I might not choose Unifix Cubes. I might choose Multi-Link Cubes or Magnatiles instead! Interestingly enough, the boys in my class generally were very careful about choosing their building materials. I also discovered later that it was mostly the girls that didn’t seem to understand what a bridge was, also! They were the ones building towers instead.
After the children started building (and learned what a bridge was,) some of them started to realize that they had not chosen a very good set of toys to make a bridge! So I started offering them other materials, such as hardcover books to supplement their building efforts. This helped a lot!
Will the Bridge Support Any Weight?
Of course, a STEM challenge like this doesn’t have to include a requirement that the bridge or tower support something such as an apple or a pumpkin, but it seems to make the whole thing a LOT more fun if it does! Once the bridges were built, the children started calling me over to watch them try to balance their pumpkin on top of their toy bridge and take a picture or video. There were lots of shouts of joy when the bridges held and whoops of dismay when they fell! If the bridge fell, the kids always wanted to watch the video playback again! But whether it held strong or fell, they had a wonderful time with the activity over all.
Modifications for Next Time
Next time I try this, I would definitely provide them with specific width they need to cross with their bridge. Some kids’ “bridges” looked more like a tower with a hole in the bottom of them! Last year, I gave each child a paper plate, and told them their bridge had to cross over the plate. That is the step that I forgot this time. They needed a piece of paper or a ruler or something as a goal to build their bridge over, plus I should have explained what a bridge was FIRST! Live and learn!
That’s it for now!! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and enjoy your weekend!!
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