Using straws in STEM class is such a great way to have students build quickly. They are easily cut, bent, and shaped to become part of many structures.
Using straws in STEM Challenges has become so routine that I asked for straws to be added to our school supply list one year! I filled one entire cabinet with straws. Just for fun, we counted the boxes one day and there were 40. FORTY. That is 4000 straws, just in boxes. There were also smaller boxes and bags, and more bags, and even more boxes.
Well, I asked for them! Right?
Straws are easy to manipulate, can be used for so many projects, and they are easily saved. I am going to share a few projects with you that rely on straws.
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Let’s Talk About Straws
Before we begin let’s talk about plastic straws. I realize that some of you do not want to use straws in your projects. Instead, you can use a wooden dowel stick or craft sticks. I tend to go with straws because they are flexible. What you need to know is that we re-use them. We rarely throw any away.
We take structures apart and place full-length straws in our recycle bin. Our bin is a place to put gently used materials to be used again. If the straws have been cut or are too bent we place them in a different bin. Those shorter straws can be used again, too. We cut them up for projects all the time. My supply cabinet is full of unopened boxes, plastic containers of pieces, and plastic containers of opened packages. When I have a large supply I pour them into gallon-sized zippered bags.
Now, let’s look at some fabulous STEM Challenges!
This is a Quick Challenge called Straw Mazes. The walls of the maze were built of straws. A little bit of clear tape and that’s about it! We have built these on pieces of cardboard, empty gift boxes, and foam board.
TIP: Buy foam board at a dollar store.
One month we tried three different kinds of platforms. I will say the one made of straws was the most challenging. The one in the photo is from that first building experience when I thought paper clips would be a good item to use to join the straws.
TIP: Use masking tape instead of paper clips. I found kids straightening the paper clips and winding them around the straws.
This fun challenge is all about creating a tower or structure that will have a hanging bucket. The bucket must hold weight. I have seen this one completed in so many different way!
TIP: Use a plastic 3-ounce cup. The paper cups are a little too flimsy.
This rescue challenge features creating two parts by two different teams and then joining them together to perform a rescue. It is one of my favorites because it is so fun to see two teams working together so well.
TIP: We used marshmallows as our rescue cargo, but anything will work. If you use something heavier than the marshmallows it will make this challenge harder!
Tennis Ball Towers
Don’t let the title of this challenge fool you! It is challenging. The goal is to build a structure that will hold a tennis ball aloft. The ball must remain a certain height off the table and it is heavier than you think! Making the ball stay balanced is tricky.
TIP: You can substitute for the tennis ball. I have used ping pong balls but they do not weigh enough. Make the ball a heavy one!
Remember that I mentioned saving pieces of straws? Here is one of the things we have used those pieces for- Geodesic Domes! Designing these domed creations was a fabulous geometric puzzle.
TIP: Place bins of straw pieces on your supply table and kids get a cup (8 ounce) full at a time. They replenish from those bins when they need more.
There you are! Six STEM projects using straws as the main building material. I promise I have many more! Don’t forget to plan on saving the pieces to use again.
Materials for STEM!