20 Best Tips

Jellybean and Toothpick Structure STEM Challenge

Jellybean and toothpick STEM challenge - building a structure that supports weight

For one of our most recent STEM classes at co-op we took advantage of Dollar Tree jellybeans and an overabundance of toothpicks. The kids have had so much fun with our hands-on challenges and learning about the best ways to build structures that are weight bearing and can stand a little pressure.


Initially we divided up into four teams of 2-3 students each but gave the kids the option of combining with one other team to build their jellybean and toothpick structure. The kids decided that was definitely the better option and quickly moved together. They also realized it provided them with more jellybeans for eating, should they not used two entire bags for their structure (smart kids).


One of the BEST things I heard came immediately after the kids combined (and while I eavesdropped on their strategy talk). Both teams were discussing the best way to build a structure that would support the most weight and still have a good height. From each team, the words “a triangle allows the strongest support” was heard. (Yes, they are listening!!)


KEVA Planks were used as a sort of ‘holding pen’ for one of the teams – they didn’t want to risk floor contamination of jellybeans that may possibly be edible later. The other team obviously had no regard for where their beans ended up.



Both teams worked with a triangular setup for their structures, although one took a more systematic approach, setting up an assembly line of sorts. Team members started the process of putting a toothpick into a jellybean and creating piles, while others created pre-made triangles for another team member to work into their structure.



Overall both teams had a blast with this challenge.  One structure was definitely more organized and that may be the team that wasn’t distracted by eating jellybeans along the way. 


While Team 1’s structure was taller overall, it came to a definite peak and would not support as much weight when added (we stacked file folders on each structure to see how many it would hold). Team 1 eventually lost their triangular structure as their building continued( see the note on jellybean consumption), lost focus, and that ended up being their downfall.


Team 2 had a much wider and elaborate base design (neater overall) thanks to their assembly line process. While their structure didn’t reach quite as much height as Team 1’s design, it supported more than twice the weight since it was able to more evenly distribute the weight when stacked.

(And jellybeans were consumed by all).

Such a fun and sticky challenge. Incidentally, picking up a box of 500 toothpicks that are spilled can be pointy and painful.

Additional STEM Challenges



Umbrella Challenge – STEM Activity for Kids

Umbrella STEM Challenge - create a shelter to keep a tissue dry

This past week in our co-op class we worked on another ‘instant challenge’ together, breaking up into four teams to create a structure that would keep a tissue dry. Out of all of the projects we have worked on so far, this one seemed to click with the kids.

Each week we have divided into groups, raced to finish a project using the few items provided, and at times there has been grumbling of “they copied our idea” or frustration when what seemed like a great plan literally crumbled to pieces. While not everyone was successful in their building endeavor, the umbrella project brought everyone together and helped the kids see the importance of teamwork.

The Umbrella Challenge

We brought a large Rubbermaid bin into class, 2 quarts of water, a colander, a tissue, and a container (to keep the tissue from touching the bottom of the bin).

Challenge: Create a structure that would keep the tissue dry when water was poured (like rain) over it with a set amount of materials.

Materials: 2 pieces of paper, 3 rubber bands, 4 pipe cleaners, 3 playing cards, 2 pencils, 2 paper cups, 4 pieces of tape, 5 cotton balls, and 3 rubber bands.

Also needed: water, colander, tissues, and a large plastic tub.

Team Results

The kids were broken up into four teams and given a short amount of time to chat with their teammates and decide on a design idea. As soon as they had an idea they set to work on their designs. The structures could be tested at any time by the students, but had to keep the tissue dry when the teachers tested it.

Team #1

Umbrella Challenge

One of the creative things this team did was use the cotton balls as the corner bases, attaching them to the pipe cleaners. While their structure was stationary on the carpet, when placed in the tub, it slipped around, so they added them to give stability, knowing when the water fell in the tub it would be soaked up into the cotton balls and give it a little more weight.

They also poked the pencils through the corners of the paper to give it a good arch and place the playing cards on the top so the paper wouldn’t soak through as quickly.

Umbrella Challenge-9

We poured the water over top and their design was successful – the tissue stayed dry. Out of all of the supplies, they didn’t use the cups or rubber bands, but did use everything else.

Team #2

Umbrella Challenge-14

This team didn’t use all of their supplies (rubber bands), but created a narrower shelter, using the pencils as the base and paper cups to provide a ‘run-off’ area for the water. Overall, they didn’t have a solid structure and needed to use the tub to support the ends of their shelter (while it was supposed to be free-standing).

Umbrella Challenge-19

When the water was poured over, the structure was too narrow, so the tissue did absorb some water. While in theory it did seem good, the overall design didn’t quite work.

Team #3

Umbrella Challenge-23

This team earned some points for creativity and strength. Their legs were very stable (good idea rolling the paper to create a stronger leg that wouldn’t get floppy when wet as quickly). They used almost all of their materials (they chose not to use the cups).

Umbrella Challenge-30

Although they had a great base to start with, their structure wasn’t wide enough to cover the tissue when the water was poured over it and ended up soaking wet.

Team #4

Umbrella Challenge-34

While team 4 didn’t quite use all of their material creatively (ahem – the rubber bands were dropped on the top so they could say they has included them), they did have a great base for their umbrella using two pencils as stability to the pipe cleaners looped through the corners to lift it up above the tissue. Their top was also thick so the water would stay off the tissue (using cards and two sheets of paper with the paper cups cut up inside to provide extra protection). Not a beautiful structure, but it stayed together!

Umbrella Challenge-39

When the water was poured over their structure, the tissue stayed dry!

The Importance of Teamwork

While the teams were busy working, there were a few complaints of ‘they are copying us’ (even though the other team wasn’t looking) and frustration when what seemed like a good idea, turned out to be a flop and plans had to be re-worked (and still flopped).

Umbrella Challenge-40

Although I had seen two of the teams beginning structures, I pulled out my own set of supplies and decided to put something together quickly. Ironically, my structure was very similar to one of the other teams (team 4) that I hadn’t seen until we all came together as a group.

Umbrella Challenge-42

My structure used the paper as the ‘umbrella’ with the three cards together underneath and held up the the pipe cleaners. The rubber bands were used to keep the pencils closer together so the paper would arch and not spread out too far when it became wet. Not too shabby for about 4 minutes of quickly building.)

As a class we had a great talk about how there are times when we may be working on an idea or concept, have the same supplies or focus, and each of us may have some similar plans, but may tweak it in a different way. It isn’t copying, but sometimes just happens. The process of discovering what does and doesn’t work often leads us to a better way of creating something.

Umbrella Challenge-47

Coming together as a group, we took the best ideas from each team and built a structure using those designs and had an even better structure. The cups were cut in half and we added slits to create addition ‘run-off’ areas and also provide a way to keep the paper in a tent style. The three playing cards were bent in half over the paper to create a more waterproof peak.

Note: We didn’t have enough time to fully build it, but would have added the pencil and pipe cleaner base from Team 4 to keep the paper up and out of the water.

While individual teams had good ideas, together, as a whole, the best one was created. It was really a great ‘learning’ moment and helped diffuse some of the frustration between the kids – team building at its best.

A Few Other STEM Activities You May Enjoy



Cup Holder STEM Challenge

Cup holder #STEM challenge project for kids

If you were given a piece of paper, tinfoil, six straws, two paperclips, two pieces of string, two pipe cleaners, three mailing labels, and an envelope – and then had five minutes – would you be able to build a structure that could support two cups while getting both cups off the ground and as far apart from each other as possible? Years ago our girls did this same Cup Holder STEM  challenge together with much success, so I thought it would be fun to try again on a larger scale.

This semester I am working with a group of six graders in our co-op in a STEM or building class. One of the things that our family (and another co-op class) enjoyed in the past were Instant Challenges. Essentially, the children are given a set of objects and a challenge to build something specific within an allotted amount of time. The bulk of our Instant Challenge STEM ideas come from this site and we tweak them to make them work for us. The main thing I love about these challenges are they involve simple (and inexpensive) items that are easy to find and give some fun results in a short amount of time.

The Cup Holder Challenge

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-8

For our first class, we introduced the overall structure of what we would be working on and broke the kids up into four teams (class of eleven, so one team has only two). Each team had at least one boy and one girl to balance it out. The kids were ‘scored’ on teamwork first and then based on completion of the challenge.

In all honesty, the challenge didn’t go quite as easily as I (or the kids) thought it was – a bit of a surprise to me, but I do think we figured out the why behind our issue…read on!

Breaking Up into Teams

Each team (between 2-3 children) was given 2 minutes to come up with a design, 6 minutes to work on their cup holder structure, and then show how their structures worked, compare designs, and make improvement suggestions to other teams or for their own structure.

Challenge: Create a structure that holds two cups as high as possible and as far apart as possible. Each team has 2 minutes to design, 7 minutes to create, and 1 minute to test their structure.

Materials: 6 straws, 1 piece of paper, a piece of tinfoil, 3 mailing labels, 2 paperclips, 2 pieces of string, 1 envelope, 2 pipe cleaners, and 5 pennies

The Results

One of the things that I love about these challenges is seeing the creativity and difference that each group comes up with in their designs. Even though they each have the same set of supplies, their brains are all whirling in different directions and putting those items together in alternate ways.

As each of the groups were working, the other mom and I walked around the room observing, offering suggestions if needed, and giving time updates.

Group 1

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-4

Out of all of the groups, Group 1 was the only one to have a completed structure at the end of the original challenge time period. They were able to transfer their structure to the middle of the room, set it up, explain their building process, and support the two cups.

They wrapped their paper in tinfoil and added the envelope for extra support on the main ‘shelf’ of their structure. Pipe cleaners and string were used to hold the straw legs together.

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-18

Their main focus was the base support, which definitely worked to their advantage. While it wasn’t raised from the floor as much as they wanted, it was a solid structure as long as the straws were all balancing properly.

Completed structure: cups were 6“ off the floor and ” apart.

Group 2

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-15

This group almost had a structure that supported the cups, but the moment they let go of the cups, their structure tipped over. They built for height, but had a base that wasn’t sturdy enough, despite the tinfoil, to support the two cups.

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-21

Their paper and envelope were rolled in a cone shape, with tinfoil as their base support. The straws were then adhered to the cone using the mailing labels.

Overall their concept was good, but not quite there. Their ‘aha’ moment came during our group suggestion time (see below) when they were able to modify it a bit based on a recommendation from another team.

Completed structure: cups were 0“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Group 3

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-12

This team had some fun ideas and creative ways to hold things together (paper clips pushed through the straws), but their overall structure ended up with zero height. They tried to connect the straw and have them in an elongated “U” shape, but then they couldn’t get their straws to stay up and support weight.

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-23

They also used up several of their supplies (by rolling or crumpling), so there really wasn’t much help that could be given to create a working structure. They had a great attitude about their mistakes.

Completed structure: cups were 0“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Group 4

Cup Holder Stem Challenge

This team was the smallest of the four, and while the two started out with a good idea (again wanting to build it as tall as they could), they quickly realized they didn’t have enough base support when it came time to balance cups on either side of their structure.

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-24

They ended up trying to use the straws in a triangle-shaped base, which did work well to give support, but they weren’t able to get any distance between the two cups and instead stacked them on top of each other.

Completed structure: cups were 3“ off the floor and 0” apart.

Making Improvements and Suggestions

As we came together as a group, some of the kids were a bit frustrated their structures weren’t completed. Three of the teams were given an extra six minutes to continue building – and they still had nothing that really worked. Many of them had already used the bulk of their supplies in a way that couldn’t be recycled (tinfoil crumpled up or paper ripped), so they were stuck.

Cup Holder Stem Challenge-27

Each team was given a chance to explain their initial idea and what they thought worked best or didn’t work how they envisioned. We then talked through what they could have tried differently and what may have been a better use of their resources. Overall it was a very encouraging time for the kids and they definitely walked away with some ideas to build it better. One group (Group 2) took a few minutes to tweak their design by cutting the bottom of their cone and spreading out the bottom of the paper and returned a few minutes later with a working structure!

What We Realized

While the bulk of our groups didn’t have a completed structure at the end of the challenge (which was puzzling to me at first), we realized that many of them were over-thinking their designs. Rather than focusing on a stable structure, they focused on making their structures be the one that put the cups the highest off the ground so they could earn more points. They could have kept it very simple (made a more table-like structure) and even gotten it done more quickly.

We also spent some time talking about how in real life things are built and require support in various ways (bridges, pyramids, etc…). The kids thought for our next challenge they need more time to design and build, but I’m honestly leaning more toward the lesser of the time so they can keep their designs simple and get done what needs to be accomplished. We’ll keep you posted on further challenges in the upcoming weeks!

Additional STEM Challenges





Marble Track Instant Challenge ~ Logic for Kids

The instant challenges that we’ve been working on with our small co-op have been so much fun and the kids were excited to have a few of the adults join in on the challenges as well! Because I’m the one pulling together the challenges, not thinking it through was hard, but I did manage it!

Marble Track Instant Challenge logic activity

Instant Challenge ~ Marble Race

The task for the marble race challenge was to create a track for a marble and have the marble ‘land’ in a taped square ~ and stay there. This time we re-divided the 11 kids to balance out the boys/girls a little better and the two adults worked together in a group as well for a total of four groups.

Challenge: Create a marble track using the given materials and have the marble land in an 8” square and remain there. Additional points will be awarded for the distance the marbles traveled to get to the taped square.

Supplies: 1 piece of cardstock, 3 straws, 1 piece of string, 3 sheets of paper, 5 mailing labels, 4 paper clips, 3 rubber bands, and 2 pencils.

We gave each of the teams one minute as a quick ‘brainstorm’ session. During this time they were allowed to sketch out any plans and talk through ideas they had for building the track.

Each team then had five minutes to create their tracks and test the stability of their tracks using a marble before we went around the room and put them to the real test. Once the time was up, we visited each team to see their track and run the marble down the track. Once scoring was complete, we gathered together as a group and talked about what we could have done differently to make the run more stable, longer, or better overall.

Here’s a look at the finished products from each team. Designs ranged from very simple to complex and it was SO much fun to see the variety!!

March Coop Meeting at Couches-36   Team #1

March Coop Meeting at Couches-37

Team #2

March Coop Meeting at Couches-38

Team #3

And the one the moms put together…

March Coop Meeting at Couches-39

The Running of the Marbles

Each of the teams {the adults included} managed to keep their tracks in place and run the marble down the track and have the marble remain in the taped box {some barely}.

This track was very simple and it took the team several runs to get the marble to stay inside the taped area, but it finally did.

March Coop Meeting at Couches-41

While this team was able to get it to stay in the taped area, they had structural issues that took them a bit to get the run in proper working order.

March Coop Meeting at Couches-43

The box that this team created and put at the end of their run was so neat and it only took one try for the run to work properly and the marble stayed in the taped square area.

March Coop Meeting at Couches-46

March Coop Meeting at Couches-48

And the moms even got in on the fun of racing and had a successful run on try number one.

March Coop Meeting at Couches-50

Scoring the Tracks

March Coop Meeting at Couches-47

Points were given to the teams based on a few different things: did they have a completed marble track, did the marble track actually work and the marble remain in the taped square, how far did the marble travel on the track, and how well did the team work together in creating and building.

Overall, Team #3 won based on the creativity of their landing box and the distance that the marble traveled on their track {15 inches}. The simplicity of the track from Team #1 though almost eeked out a win distance-wise {21 inches}, but because of the lack of creativity, the team didn’t earn as many points.

And the moms? According to the kids, we earned lots of points for our cool tunnel design, but even will full point awarded in all areas, our marble only traveled eleven inches, so Team #3 had an honest and clean win. {grins}

Links to Work on Your Own Marble Track Challenge

In case you’d like to work on the Marble Track Instant Challenge with your children, download the FREE printables below by clicking below.


Other Fun Instant Challenges

Be sure to check out these other posts for a little more fun with instant challenges!


Boat Race Instant Challenge ~ Logic for Kids

The kids in our learning group are really loving the Instant Challenges. The adults are too – enough that we want to be included in them the next time we are together!

Boat Race Instant Challenge



We pulled this challenge from one that Michelle from Delightful Learning provided a few years ago and put it to the test with the eleven kids in our group.

Instant Challenge – Boat Race

Our second instant challenge was to build a boat, have it be ‘seaworthy’, and race it against the other boats. The kids were divided up into 3 smaller groups {2 3-person groups and one 4-person} with a pretty fair mix of boys/girls in each group.

Challenge: Create a boat and race it across the water as quickly as possible.

Supplies: 3 straws, 10 craft sticks, 3 Styrofoam cups, 3 marshmallows, 1 piece of string, 1 piece of foil, 3 mailing labels, 2 chenille sticks, 1 piece of paper, and a tub of water

{see the downloads and more information here}

We gave each team a 2 minute ‘on paper’ planning time to talk over the ideas swimming around in their heads. This wasn’t a time to build or touch the supplies – just a chance to think out loud together.

Boat Race Instant Challenge (1)

The teams were given 8 minutes to build a boat using the materials they were provided {see supplies}. During the time that they were working together as a team, another mom and I walked around the room to see how the kids were working together as a team – but no help!!

Boat Race Instant Challenge (3)

Each team took a very different approach!! Here’s a look at the finished projects.

Boat Race Instant Challenge (4)

Vessel #1

Boat Race Instant Challenge (5)

Vessel #2

Boat Race Instant Challenge (6)

Vessel #3

Testing Sea-worthiness

Boat Race Instant Challenge (7)

Once the boats were completed, we took them all outside to race them across a tub of water and timed their travel. To be fair, the same mom gave them each a send-off.


Each of the teams was also given a chance to explain the process in their boat building – why they thought something would or wouldn’t work and what they would have done differently after seeing how their boat raced. This was actually very fun to listen to – and see how their minds were working when we might have been thinking “What in the world made them do that?”

Boat Race Scoring

Points were given to the team for a few different things: having a completed boat, speed the boat races across the water, creativity in racing, creative use of materials, and teamwork.

Out of all of the boats, Vessel #3 was the winner, although Vessel #1 was a close second. Vessel #2, sadly started taking on water and that hindered the progress. {grins}

Are you a part of a learning group? What fun activities have you done together to foster teamwork? 

Links to Work on Your Own Boat Race Challenge

In case you’d like to work on this Instant Challenge with your children, here are a few links to help you out:

Other Fun Instant Challenges

Bridge Builder Instant Challenge ~ Logic for Kids

This year we are a part of a smaller learning group with a few other families. Every other month I have the chance to work with the older group of kids {grades 4 through 6…or 7} using some fun, hands-on activities to help get the creative juices flowing and foster working together as a team.

Building Bridges Instant Challenge - a fun, creative logic activity for kids - homeschoolcreations.net

The plan – instant challenges.

Years ago, Michelle from Delightful Learning shared some Instant Challenge activities and we are working on those with the eleven kids in our group.

Instant Challenge – Bridge Builder

For our first instant challenge we worked on the Bridge Builder. We broke the kiddos up into three groups and spread them out so that no ideas could be overheard or peeked at {wink}. We had a mix of boys and girls in each group, assigned a leader to each group and explained the rules per the instructions on the sheet.

Challenge: Create a bridge that will hold weight. The bridge must span from Point A to Point B {two taped squares 6-8” apart} and points will be earned based on creativity, structure stability, and other extras.

Supplies: deck of cards and a pair of scissors

{see the downloads and more information here}


The groups were given time limits for the task {see the handout from Delightful Learning} and another mom and I walked around during the construction time to see how the kids were working together as a team and to make sure the rules were being followed.


When the time was up, hands were off and we pulled out our score sheets to check a few things:

  • was there a standing structure?
  • could the bridge hold weight?
  • creativity in design
  • was teamwork evident?

20121002-IMG_8563 20121002-IMG_8569

The Finished Bridges

This was a great introduction challenge activity for the kids to get an idea of what was expected of them – and have some creative fun! Somehow I only seem to have a few pictures of the finished products {apparently, I must have been busy attempting to collapse their structures!


The three teams all had a different method for building and supporting their bridges as well – some cut them so they would hold together and others just folded/bent cards.


Each of the teams did have a bridge/structure at the end of the challenge and we then placed one nail at a time on the bridges to see how much weight each one would support before collapsing. The teams earned 5 points for each nail that their bridge could support {we had a total of ten nails}. While no team’s bridge was able to support the full weight, it was fun watching their faces as they waited to see how durable their bridges would be.

I think the hardest part of this challenge {for me} was NOT giving advice and letting the kids all work through the issues that came up together as a team {even when I KNEW that something wouldn’t work…or there was a much easier solution to the problem}.

Overall – SUCH a fun activity!! Below you’ll find the links to the different posts that Michelle share with the downloads.

Challenge #1 – Bridge Builder Introduction

Delightful Learning’s Challenge #1 Results

Our results from the Bridge Builder Instant Challenge several years ago

This is a great activity to have your kids work on, either individually or in a group setting and see the creative things they come up with! What activities do you do with your kids to foster creativity and teamwork?


Jolanthe Signature affiliate button

Apologia Educational Ministries ~ producing resources to help homeschool families learn, live, and defend the Christian faith.