Thursday, March 21, 2019

Combine STEM and ELA with a Full Year of Design Challenges {A Review}

If you're looking for an easy way to tie STEM and ELA together while offering your children a wide variety of creative problem-solving and design challengesSTEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading by Tied 2 Teaching could be just what you are looking for!

This handy resource - which my children have been tackling challenges from - offers a wide variety of activities to engage students of multiple ages and abilities.

What is STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading?

STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading is bundle of 70+ STEM challenges which dovetail purposefully with close reading activities and allow children to work literacy skills along with science, technology, engineering, and math ones.

The resource is designed for children at a grades 3-6 level, and, after using it, I would say that it hit the mark with the close reading activities but that the actual STEM challenges could easily adapt to a wider age range.

The challenge files, when I unzipped and downloaded them, showed up in an alphabetical order; however, they can also be grouped by month in order to correspond to holidays and seasonal themes.

  • 100th Day of School STEM Challenge – SPAGHETTI TOWER Design Challenge
  • Marshmallow Snowman Challenge
  • CIVIL RIGHTS MONUMENT Design Challenge
  • Sled Design Challenge
  • Valentines Day STEM Challenge – Cupid’s Bow Design
  • Groundhog Day STEM Challenge – Groundhog Burrow Design Challenge
  • Valentines STEM Challenge – Love Bug Design Challenge
  • Presidents Day STEM Challenge – Lincoln’s Cabin Challenge
  • St. Patrick’s Day STEM Challenge – Build a Leprechaun Trap
  • Basketball Tower STEM Challenge
  • St. Patrick’s Day STEM Challenge – Build a Rainbow Bridge
  • New Hat for Cat Challenge Read Across America STEM
  • Jelly Bean Tower Challenge
  • Easter STEM Challenge Design a Carrot Carriage
  • Earth Day STEM Challenge – Design Something Useful
  • Earth Day STEM Challenge – Upcycled Birdhouse
  • Design a New Droid
  • Paper Airplane Design Challenge
  • Pipe Cleaner Challenge
  • Lighthouse Design Challenge
  • Foil Boat Design Challenge
  • Giant Pyramid Challenge
  • Steamboat Design Challenge
  • Zip Line Design Activity
  • House of Cards Challenge
  • Doghouse Design Challenge
  • Alien Spacecraft Challenge
  • Airplane Design Challenge
  • Building Block Tower Challenge
  • Index Card Skyscraper Challenge
  • Paper Table Challenge
    BONUS Building Block Challenge MEGA PACK
  • Apple Boat Challenge
  • Pencil Tower Challenge
  • Totem Pole Challenge
  • Balloon Tower Challenge
  • Spider Web Design Challenge
  • Witch’s Parachute Halloween STEM Challenge
  • Bone Bridge Challenge
  • Sugar Cube Arch Challenge
  • Parade Balloon Challenge
  • Thanksgiving Table Challenge
  • Cranberry Tower Challenge
  •  Pilgrim Shelter Challenge
  • Cardboard Reindeer Challenge
  • Funky Christmas Ornament Challenge
  • Straw Christmas Tree Challenge
  • Christmas Tree Tower


These groupings can make for fun calendar tie-ins. However, since  each challenge stands alone and the skills and knowledge explored in one do not consecutively build into the next, you can really approach the challenges in any order you wish. 

This is what we did - pulling challenges out based on interest, the supplies we had on hand, etc.

Does It Require a Ton of Supplies?

Because this resource is purchased online and delivered as a compressed zip file, you will, of course, need a computer to purchase, download, and save your bundle.

Then, you will also need a computer to read the challenges themselves along with the passages on Wonderopolis that are used for close reading.

If you prefer not to have your child onscreen, however, you can print out the Wonderopolis texts and select pages from the pdf challenge packets to print out, too. 

In each packet, there are about 18-20 pages, on average, but you need not print every page out. Rather, you can pick which of the differentiated pages will best suit your child and, then, print just those.

Besides a computer and printer, you will need different supplies for each different challenge, but, most of these things are things you'd already have around the house - tinfoil, playing cards, pennies, pencils, paper, books, recyclables, etc. - or things you can easily and inexpensively purchase - balloons, marshmallows, etc.

Some challenges do require a relatively more expensive item - plastic building bricks - but many homeschoolers have these, so, if you don't, you could always ask to borrow some, or you could purchase a knock off brand or the main brand secondhand. (Or, skip the challenges or use an alternate item to do an inspired challenge.)

Really, the supplies are not burdensome at all and, because the challenges promote creative problem-solving, in my opinion, if you don't have a specific suggested supply item, you can just swap out something else.

What Was It Like to Use?

We received STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading as a link to download a compressed ZIP file or PDF files of each of the STEM challenge activities.

Inside each individual challenge activity file, we found a title and link to an online reading passage (with a QR link, too, but we don't know how to use those.)

That title/link took us to a page on a site called Wonderopolis where we could read more about the subject of the challenge. (The reading passage could also be printed from the Wonderopolis site, but we chose to read from the screen.)

Within the file there was also a printable with questions pertaining to the Wonderopolis article, which, with the first two challenges we did, I encouraged my children to complete. In doing so, I noted two things:

  1. The close reading questions were varied and well written - with some that just pointed toward direct comprehension and some that required a bit more thinking (depending on a child's level).
  2. Worksheets like this are NOT my children's style, but are still a good exercise for them every once in a while, and, I know, would be just up the alley of some other children I know.

So, with these things in mind, even though part of the initial appeal of this resource for me was the way it marries ELA and STEM skills, I decided, for the sake of sanity and interest level in my home, to forego "requiring" the Wonderopolis passages and close reading worksheets after the first two challenges we did, but am still happy to have them as they can inspire discussion and also be cycled back into life and learning at another time.

Then, after completing the close reading pages during our first two challenges, we read the challenge pages and picked at least one design challenge printable for each child to fill out.  

Unfortunately, we chose the house of cards challenge for our first challenge, but I did not realize our cards were simply too laminated and new for the houses to be built with ease.

That made for some frustrating challenge time - but also got creative thinking flowing.

The frustration with slippery cards then led to less than best attitudes with filling out the design challenge forms.

Oops!  Mama fail!  Seriously, MAMA's - not the products. The actual challenge was well written and could be fun!

How do I know?

On another day, my daughter asked if she could challenge friends to an impromptu redo of one of the challenges we'd done at home, and, when she described them to a friend's mom, that mom got some older playing cards out and the kids went to town.



The second challenge we chose was to make a table out of newspaper.  However, since I had no newspaper on hand, we just used recycled paper.

Again, my children were not as interested in the reading or the filling out of worksheets as some other children might be - although I still asked them to do so to honor our review commitment - but they did enjoy the challenge.

Some of them tried to make tall tables:

Other shorter ones:

And one super short one:

But strong, too!

In fact, my daughter then decided to extend the activity to see how many books she could stack on her table before the table completely folded in, allowing a book to touch the real table beneath.

I love when natural inquiry flows like this!

And, with that in mind, I decided to let natural inquiry take over for future challenges.  

Instead of me requiring reading, writing, etc., I am opting to let my children browse the challenge files themselves and to explore as they will with them from there.

That's what happened with the tinfoil boat and penny challenge!

One son saw a picture of the challenge and asked if he could do it - right then and there. 

Then, another child asked to join in.

Both had fun and kept exploring!

Later, my children asked if we could try more challenges with friends - competing with them in a friendly way.  Of course, I said we can look into it, but, I also explained that we cannot share the actual bundle we have due to permissions.  We can certainly recommend it to others, though!

Do We Recommend It?

STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading by Tied 2 Teaching is a well-thought and presented resource that adapts easily for different ages, abilities, and interests while encouraging children to get hands and minds busy with STEM and ELA.

As written, it would be ideal for students who use a traditional approach to learning - with readings and worksheets - but who also benefit from breaking outside the typical box to do some hands-on creative problem solving.

It also can work well for more interest-led or relaxed learning styles - like those in my home.

Besides the physical supplies for each challenge (like tinfoil, pennies, balloons, etc.) everything you need for each reading, writing, thinking, doing, AND reflecting lesson is right there - printable or accessible on computer - so you do not need to do any planning or prep beyond picking a challenge, gathering supplies, and printing whatever pages you wish to.

Also, as I already noted, the challenges are designed to align with specific holidays and seasons, so there are easy tie-ins built in - or, like us, you can pick challenges based on interest or what supplies you have at home.

Within the challenge files there are photos for the creations other children have made, too, so you will have ideas to work from or can show your children the ideas if they get stuck or want to compare their own ideas with someone else's.

So, with this resource, you "get it all" I'd say:

  • specific, well-designed curricula for those that like that
  • flexibility for those that like to pick, choose, and adapt
  • STEM and ELA focus
  • "book" (or rather computer, printable, and pencil) learning opps
  • experiential/hands-on learning opps
  • the ability to use and re-use materials at your child's different ages and stages
  • creativity, fun, and inspiration

With all this in mind, I wholeheartedly recommend STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading by Tied 2 Teaching to anyone who wants a clearly designed, easy to use set of design challenges to inspire fun and learning!

Learn More

I was looking at the STEM Activities, Full Year of Challenges with Close Reading page when preparing for writing this review and noticed the bundle is currently half off, so if you are thinking about purchasing it, now is the time!

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Tied 2 Teaching at:

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