STEM Challenges for the Classroom


10 STEM Challenges: Idea Roundup!


Education never seems to lack a new fad teaching strategy, curriculum emphasis, instructor temperament, or trendy buzzword to garner our hopes of a bright future for our students and our profession. In fact, ScienceGeek has created a playful jargon generator that parody’s the linguistic nonsense that often passes as educational theory. Therefore, it can be tempting to discard STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education as a trendy buzzword that satiates educational critics while not radically altering the function or purpose of the teaching. However, as Jonathan Herlach argues for The National Science Teachers Association, “STEM from the workforce perspective is … more about grooming workers with 21st-century skills who are ready to jump right in.” Moreover, there are multiple aspects of a STEM lesson that can be integrated into any classroom by classroom teachers who want to help prepare their students to succeed in the modern workforce. These STEM challenges, both the silly and the serious, can be integrated into almost any classroom and can help students develop the skills necessary to thrive after they leave the classroom.


  1. The Marshmallow Challenge – Described in Tom Wujec’s 2010 TED Talk and often used by both business and education leaders to initiate team building and to commence focus on STEM training, the marshmallow challenge involves providing a team of students with twenty sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, a string, and a marshmallow. Teams have eight minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure with the marshmallow on top. This is a great activity to begin a STEM class because of the way that it initiates collaboration and deep-thinking in an ancillary and introductory way.
  2. Design an App or WebsiteSTEMNET’s challenge asks students to produce a ten minute presentation about a proposed app that supports a STEM event at the the school or promotes STEM in the school. STEMNET’s project includes several modifications or presentation topics that can best fit the needs of your school and your classroom. This particular challenge does not require students to actually build an app or a website, but it is an exercise in planning and presenting their STEM ideas. As a result, this challenge can be used in any classroom seeking to imbed STEM skills into the curriculum.
  3. Design for a Better World – This challenge is initiated by Practical Action, and it asks students to identify a global issue that can be solved or improved through technology. Students are asked to research this topic and design a technology that will improve or repair their particular issue. While providing incredible resources for teachers and students, Practical Action has developed a challenge that can be implemented across the curriculum and that includes a “real-world” application to learning.stem-challenges
  4. The Egg Drop Challenge –  The egg drop challenge  is a classic! Students design and create a safety container for a raw egg. Once created, have a class competition to see who created the safest container. The egg drop challenge is simple and challenging enough for students at all levels to effectively participate and to have a great time.
  5. Parachuting Onto Mars – Designed by Nasa and featuring extensive resources from the organization, this STEM Challenge asks students to “design and test a drag device to slow a spacecraft and protect its cargo, as well as calculate the surface area and measure the mass of the spacecraft.” Students will create a video featuring the process they followed to arrive at their conclusions, and this video can be submitted to NASA as part of the challenge.stem-challenge-meme-generator
  6. Cat Meme Generator – The creators of Raspberry Pi compiled an exhaustive set of resources for integrating Raspberry Pi into the curriculum. One of the funniest resources is a STEM challenge that asks students to create a original cat meme using JavaScript functionality. With memes being a primary language of teens, it seems like a great time to integrate this into the classroom.
  7. Engineering Design Challenge – Dr. Wesley Fryer has a deluge of easy to integrate STEM challenge ideas, but the paper table challenge is the easiest and most fun challenge on the list. It involves giving  a group of students twenty minutes to develop and build a table using twenty pieces of newspaper, a yard of masking tape, and one piece of cardboard. The end goal is to develop a table that can hold the weight of a standard dictionary.
  8. Ultimate STEM Challenge – Sponsored by BP, the Ultimate STEM Challenge challenges teams of two to four students to choose from a short list of provided challenges that are based around the theme of thinking creatively. While this challenge is specifically for UK students, the resources are available to anyone, and teachers can integrate this challenge into their classroom regardless. Because their resources and challenges are so robust, this is a must-consider challenge for teachers looking for new ways to integrate STEM into the classroom. This is certainly a more advanced STEM challenge, but the teacher and student resources provided by NASA make it fully feasible and a great opportunity for students to particular in real-world learning through STEM.
  9. The Tinkering Challenge – Not every STEM Challenge needs to solve a serious world issue, and in fact, STEM learning begins long before our students are saving the world. The tinkering challenge has students race a toy car from one of end the table to the other without touching the car, altering the track, or touching the table. Students can work with available materials to design ways to move the car within the constraints of the challenge.
  10. HTML Coding Quiz – Sponsored by the new film, Search for Hidden Figures, the HTML coding quiz allows students to inspect HTML code to find the missing piece of code to accurately run a website. Students who are successful will move through different levels of increasingly difficulty.

STEM is vitally important to our students’ success after they leave the classroom, and it is comprised of more than just the skills outlined in the acronym. While it is easy to be overwhelmed by the vast needs of students, these STEM challenges can be an easy way to begin integrating these skills into your classroom, to assess your teaching in a new or dynamic way, or to enhance the presence of STEM in the community in general. Choose an idea that you like, try it, even change it, and implement it with the great things you are already doing in the classroom.