Example STEM Challenges for 1st, 2nd & 3rd Graders

My personal favorite memory from middle school was a challenge in math class. We needed to design and construct a bridge out of toothpicks and glue, that would be judged by hanging weights from the middle of the bridge. I think that was one the moments in my life that starting leading me towards engineering focused career paths.

Below is a sample curricula that was sent by Sister Marie Noelle of the Overbrook private elementary school outside of Nashville. She’s been working on making STEM focused learning activities for her kids. She’s been utilizing Fort Boards to make those activities both educational and engagingly fun. Below is an example that you can use with your kids at home or in the classroom. A big thanks to Sister Marie for all of her work; her students are very lucky!

Directions for using the 5 step Engineering Design Process:  (You'll likely need to clean this up a bit if you decide to use it.)

Challenge: Give the challenge to the students and list at least 2 to 3 requirements or parameters. Some sample challenges are listed below.

Ask:  Work in teams or as a whole class to brainstorm questions about the challenge. These can be related to materials, possible constraints they foresee in meeting the challenge etc. Depending on the age level they should write down 2 to 5 questions.

Imagine: Direct students to move to step 2 and begin to illustrate or write about 3 to 5 ideas they have for meeting the challenge. These do not need to be completely thought out and can relate to all or part of the challenge. Younger students may be directed to illustrate on small pieces of paper what their ideas are then paste them all on the imagine step so that they can then discuss and plan.

Plan:  Students work together to come up with a plan.  For students in Kindergarten and first grade this may simply involve circling ideas from the imagine phase that they plan to use.  For older students this should become a more involved step. They should discuss which ideas to try and why, come up with a consensus, assign tasks to group members so that are all involved and put as much of this in writing as the teacher requires. They may illustrate their plan in full diagram form.   

Create:  Pictures can be taken of the process and final design.

Improve:  Upon completing their task students should be directed to write at least 1 or 2 things they improved along the way during their create phase.  They may also write what further improvements they would make pending less constraints with materials and time.  Once students become proficient at the process they may stop while building to document improvements along the way. In this way they come to understand that the Engineering Design Process is circle of problem solving and that although they have only written down items one time around, they actually go through the cycle multiple times during a STEM challenge and this is what engineers do. 

Sample Challenges:

K to 1st Grade Challenge:

Design and build a house that can fit at least 2 people inside.


· One side of your house must have 3 rows and 4 columns.

· Write an addition sentence to hang on each side of your walls using repeated addition to count the pieces in that wall.

Teacher may paraphrase the requirements for student to copy or give them a prewritten template.

2nd to 3rd Grade Challenge:

Design and build a house that can fit at least 2 people inside and determine the area and perimeter of the house.


· The house must have an area greater than 12 squares but less than 25 squares 

· Some part of your house must demonstrate the multiplication sentence 3 x 4 = 12

Teacher may paraphrase the requirements for student to copy or give them a prewritten template.

Do you have any STEM challenges that you’d like to share with us? Email us at info@FortBoards.com.