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.

World Autism Awareness Day - Toys for Special Needs

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. ASD, or autism spectrum disorder, affects so many lives today and yet it is often misunderstood. Here are some facts about autism from the organization Autism Speaks: 

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
  • An estimated 50,000 teens with autism become adults – and lose school-based autism services – each year.
  • Around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal.
  • Around one third of people with autism have an intellectual disability.
  • Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.

We, at Fort Boards®, are certainly no experts on autism but we are learning more and more. Whenever a parent asks us or lets us know about how Fort Boards® works with autistic children, we take note. This toy was not intentionally designed for special needs but we have gotten enough feedback that it is indeed a useful tool for many special needs

Dylan can be shy sometimes and that's okay

Dylan can be shy sometimes and that's okay

Recently, a mother to a young autistic boy named Dylan reached out to us. Dylan had been playing with Fort Boards® during therapy sessions with his occupational therapist. 

Fort Boards® work for Dylan, a unique little boy. The very first thing Dylan did with Fort Boards® was build a square around himself, then he exclaimed “Dylan space. l, the therapist, was able to get him to engage by tossing a ball back and forth from “Dylan’s Space.” On one occasion he was having a rough day. He built up the walls higher and was able to tell us without words that he needed some time, as well as being able to remove a few boards to let someone in. It’s hard for him to explain - as an autistic child he has a hard time relaying what he needs or what he wants. But we know if it’s a good day when he builds with a door or without.
— Dylan's Occupational Therapist

This World Autism Awareness Day we hope you are able to help spread awareness of ASD. You can participate in social media movements like Light It Up Blue (#lightitupblue) or you could possibly contribute to one of the many organizations that are working to further the understanding of autism spectrum disorders.