It’s winter—time for snow! Let’s do some STEM challenges with a snowy theme!

This week, we will explore the engineering process through “snowy” activities that challenge students to consider affordances and constraints, limited material use, and achieving of goals.

Activity 1: Tallest Snowman Activity 2: Frozen Forest Activity 3: Frosty Fortress
Materials
  • 5 sheets of copy paper per student
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Coloring implements
  • 1 pipe cleaner per student
  • Cotton balls/pompoms (optional)
  • yardstick/ measuring tape
  • prize for winning snowman (optional)
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Paper cups
  • Straws
  • Pipe cleaners
  • White paper
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Craft sticks
  • prize for winning tree (optional)
  • Marshmallows
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Rulers
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Skewers
  • Trays, or large paper on which to build (so tables don’t get sticky)
  • prize for winning teams (optional)
Lesson Flow
  1. Gather materials
  2. Introduce the challenge: build the tallest snowman possible
  3. Post and go over the constraints
  4. Pass out limited materials to individuals or teams
  5. Have students build their snowmen
  6. Optionally decorate the snowmen!
  7. Measure the height of snowmen to see which one is the tallest!
  1. Gather materials
  2. Introduce the challenge: Build a tree with the longest total height of triangular paper icicles on it, but that still stands up
  3. Post and go over the constraints
  4. Pass out limited materials to individuals or teams
  5. Have students build their icy trees
  6. Measure the height of icicles to find which tree has the tallest total height!
  1. Gather materials
  2. Introduce the challenge: Build an “ice” wall out of marshmallows that will stand up to a “snowball” (more marshmallows) attack!
  3. Post and go over the constraints
  4. Split students into teams
  5. Pass out limited materials to teams
  6. Have students build their walls
  7. Have each team throw marshmallows at another team’s wall to test it
Goals
  • Explore the design process
  • Fulfill criteria while staying within constraints
  • Creatively work with limited materials
  • Practice with measurement and balance
  • Explore the design process
  • Fulfill criteria while staying within constraints
  • Creatively work with limited materials
  • Practice with measurement and balance
  • Practice addition
  • Learn about different types of triangles
  • Reason through how to maximize certain factors (i.e., height) while minimizing material use
  • Explore the design process
  • Fulfill criteria while staying within constraints
  • Creatively work with limited materials
  • Learn about stability/durability

Lesson Steps

Introduce the challenge: “Today we’re going to build snowmen—out of paper! Try to build the tallest snowman you possibly can, with the following rules (also called ‘constraints’).” [Post the following on the screen/board]:

  1. You may only use 5 sheets of copy paper for your snowman, and 1 pipe cleaner for a hat.

  2. The snowman must have 3 sections.

  3. The bottom section must be largest, the middle section medium-sized, and the top section smallest.

  4. The snowman must stand up on its own.

  5. You will have 35 minutes to build. After, we will measure everyone’s snowmen. The tallest one wins!

  6. You may decorate your snowman any way you want as long as it doesn’t add to the height.

Lesson Steps

Introduce the challenge: “Today we will build a tree with paper icicles on it. Whoever (or whichever pair/team) builds a tree with the highest total height of ‘icicles’ (i.e., paper triangles) wins!”

Talk a bit about what icicles are: They are formed when water freezes while dripping or falling from an object. Usually it is still below freezing when icicles form, but something, like the sun, is making it warm enough for some ice or snow to melt and drip. Did you know that the center of an icicle is made of liquid water?

What shape are icicles? [Wait for an answer] They are usually cones, though wind and other factors might make them a different shape. What shape do cones look like from the side? [Draw a cone from the side on the board, and wait for an answer] That’s right, they look like triangles. We’re going to make triangular “icicles” today because they’re easy to make out of paper.

Have a discussion about how to measure with a ruler if necessary. Draw 3 triangles on the board: one right, one acute, and one obtuse (because these are representing “icicles,” make sure a point is facing down rather than a side). Demonstrate measuring each one’s height from the base to the tallest (i.e., lowest, since the points are facing downward) point. Ask students which type(s) they would choose if they wanted to maximize height but minimize length.

Post the following rules/constraints on the board/screen:

  1. You can use a paper towel tube or multiple small cups to build the tree’s trunk. It can be no taller than 12 inches/1 foot.

  2. Use straws, craft sticks, or pipe cleaners for the tree’s branches.

  3. Tape icicles to the branches. Icicles must be triangles cut out of white paper. The side attached to the branch must be at least 1 inch long. You will have only 3 sheets of paper.

  4. The tree must balance/stand up on its own.

  5. You will have 30 minutes to build. After, we will measure the height of your triangular icicles. Whichever tree has the tallest total height of icicles wins!

Put large paper on all the tables or pass out trays for teams to build on. Otherwise you’ll have a sticky mess on your tables!

Introduce the challenge: “Today we’re going to build a wall of ice—out of marshmallows! Then, whichever teams’ walls can stand up to a ‘snowball’ attack (more marshmallows thrown at it) will all win!”

Separate the students into teams of 3.

Then post the following constraints on the board/screen:

  1. You will have 35 marshmallows, 10 skewers, 10 straws, and 5 pipe cleaners to build your wall.

  2. The wall can be no taller than 8 inches.

  3. You may try throwing marshmallows at your wall to see if it will stand up to the snowball attack, but ONLY if you ask an adult first.

  4. You will have 30 minutes to build and test. Then another team will throw up to 20 marshmallows at your wall. If your wall stays standing, your team wins!

(Note to facilitator: If you don’t have enough marshmallows, you can reuse the same 20 marshmallows for all the snowball attacks. This will also help make sure only 1 team attacks at a time.)

Modified version of constraints for mini marshmallows plus full-size:

  1. You will have 50 mini marshmallows, 5 full-size marshmallows, 15 skewers, 15 straws, and 5 pipe cleaners to build your wall.

  2. The wall can be no taller than 8 inches.

  3. You may try throwing full-size marshmallows at your wall to see if it will stand up to the snowball attack, but ONLY if you ask an adult first.

  4. You will have 30 minutes to build and test. Then another team will throw up to 20 full-size marshmallows at your wall. If your wall stays standing, your team wins!