STEM challenges for kids are an easy way to work science, technology, engineering and mathematic principles into play. Today we are doing a red cup challenge that is one of our favorite STEM activities. In the red cup STEM challenge, kids will explore STEM planning, experimenting and implementation all within the framework of a fun game.
STEM Challenges for Kids
Do you ever have an “Ah-ha” moment? When a new STEM concept becomes obvious to kids, it can be exciting! Encourage learning through STEM activities by hosting your own STEM challenge! A STEM challenge can be independent study with one student challenging time, distance or height, or with multiple students including a whole classroom competing against each other.
Implementing the STEM Red Cup Challenge in the Classroom
About two years ago I started teaching an integrated science course. The Integrated Science Class is a large class of 39 kids, with mixed grades (3rd to 8th graders) and we strive to mix science, technology, engineering and math skills each week, learning by solving challenges.
Every week we break the kids up into teams randomly and give them a set of rules for their new STEM challenge. The red cup STEM challenge worked really well with a large group – this is how we implemented it in the classroom.
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STEM Red Cup Stacking Challenge for Kids
1. Break Into Teams for Red Cup Challenge
At the beginning of the class we broke the kids into teams. We typically run 35-40 kids a class period, breaking into teams makes the class more manageable. The teams are completely random, and each week the kids are paired with a new group and new challenges.
2. Each Team Receives the Same Supplies for STEM Challenge
In our red cup challenge, each team received these supplies. You can alter the number and type of supplies based on time and number of kids in the class.
STEM Cup Tower Supplies for each team
- 10 Red Plastic Cups
- 2 Straws per person in the team
- 1 – 2ft length of string per person in the team
- 1 cotton ball per person in the team
- A rubber band per kiddo
- And 1 Lego Figure per team
- (optional: Crepe Papertape)
Cup Tower Directions
Our directions for the red cup challenge were intentionally brief and open-ended…
Goal of Cup Stacking Challenge:
The ultimate goal of the red cup STEM challenge was that teams needed to make a pyramid of red cups and place a LEGO minifigure on the top of the tower WITHOUT TOUCHING THE CUPS OR THE FIGURE WITH THEIR HANDS.
Working together to complete the Cup Challenges
The kids need to work together to come up with a way to move the cups. There were several good (and different) techniques experimented with in our classroom:
- Some kids lifted the cups with the straws.
- Other children tried tying the string to the cups and then lifting the string ends to lift the cups.
- Another team stretched rubber bands to place them around the cups, then lifted the cups as a team.
Winning the Cup Stacking Challenge
After a team “won” the challenge, I would ask them to tell me to show me how they did it… and then we would remove a tool or add an obstacle and they had to re-think the challenge and re-do it.
The STEM Cup Challenges Didn’t Stop There!
Some of the additional challenges and obstacles we placed on teams for the second round:
- For the team that lifted the cups with the straws we took the straws away.
- For a team that had struggles communicating we made everyone silent except for the child who was the quietest.
- For a team who was super, super fast, we had them put their left hands into their back pockets.
- Another team had half of their members blind-folded with crepe paper blindfolds.
STEM Cup Stacking Game FAQ
Describing the red cup stacking game are many names like Solo cup stacking, cup engineering challenge, Solo cup challenge, Stack attack and just plain old cup stacking!
For our Solo Cup stacking challenge, we used 10 cups so a four high pyramid could be formed. If you are playing with adults or older kids giving them a higher pyramid could be a fun challenge like 15 cups or 21 red cups.
We love a good STEM challenge because it is an open-ended learning experience for the participants to use science, technology, engineering and mathematic knowledge in a hands on way. In my opinion, a good STEM challenge is simple, uses common items and has a hint of competition!
The question of how to stack cups without touching them could be answered a million ways! But the common solutions in our experience is to use something in between the hands and the cup like straws, string or rubber bands.
More STEM Activities for Kids
- Building with Straws: a STEM Activity
- STEM Paper Airplane Challenge
- Lego Balance Scale Stem Project
- Let’s build a popsicle stick bridge!
- You don’t always need fancy items to do experiments. You can use a lot of items you have around the house which is great to do these kitchen science for kids!
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- Science fair coming up? Check out our list of elementary schools science fair projects.
- While candy corn’s taste may be controversial, it is great for this candy corn science experiment.
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- This science fair project on how easy germs spreads is perfect to show why people need to be mindful about hygiene.
- These hand washing science fair projects are perfect this year to show people why they need to wash their hands regularly.
- The science fair doesn’t have to be stressful. We have plenty of science fair poster ideas!
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- Get hands on with these air pressure experiments for kids.
- Need a break from science? Then check out our free printable zentangle coloring pages!
- Learn how to build a robot for kids!
- Learn about and how to make pulleys!
In Case You Need More Fun Ideas:
What did your kids think about the red cup STEM challenge? How did they solve the building problems?