If your kids are anything like mine then you’ve probably got a constant hoard of sticks leaning up by your back door! What is it with kids and sticks? Natural magnetism to be sure! Why not put some of them to good use with this Stick Raft Building STEM Project? (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) It’s a great way for kids to engage with Nature, learn new skills and have fun!
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My boys had a blast with this Stick Raft Building STEM Project. It was such a hit that I’m sure we’ll come back to it again in the future too. It will be interesting to revisit this over the years as their skills and knowledge develop.
When I introduce my kids to a STEM project I like to think of it in 3 main sections:
- Building/ Testing/Evaluating
Stage 1 BRAINSTORMING – Stick Raft Building STEM Project
This is the stage when I throw in the challenge and then I step back to see what ideas the children have for solving it. This stage is great for building their interpersonal and debating skills as they learn to listen to others and respect their ideas and also to back up and justify their own ideas.
It can be tempting to give a direct answer to any questions they ask but I try to resist. For example they might ask “Do all sticks float whatever their size?” Even if I know the answer I won’t give it to them but will try to encourage them to discover the answer for themselves, so I might answer…”That’s a really interesting question. How could you find out the answer?”
It’s nice to give kids the opportunity to set their own challenges within the STEM project too. My kids wanted their rafts to travel quickly and decided the best way to do this was to add a sail that they or the wind could blow. Challenges could include things like keeping afloat the longest, traveling the quickest, carrying the most weight, surviving a small waterfall etc.
Stage 2 DESIGNING – Stick Raft Building STEM Project
I try to encourage the children to think about their design. To plan what materials they need and their quantity, to decide on size, shape, features etc. This can be a verbal extension of stage one or children can actually draw out and annotate their design on paper or the computer.
Stage 3 BUILDING/ TESTING/ EVALUATING – Stick Raft Building STEM Project
When completing the Stick Raft Building STEM Project children will obviously have a go at actually building a real raft. They may be lucky and get a fully working result first time or their design might need tweaking. Either way an immense amount can be gained from not just making, but testing their design, evaluating it and possibly making adjustments or redesigns. As children get older and their skills develop they may start to separate stage 3 into three distinct areas of focus.
How My Kids Carried Out The Stick Raft Building STEM Project
My children have already made some paper boats and avocado boats so they had some experience to bring to this STEM challenge. First they picked out the sticks they wanted to use and got them to roughly the same length. My eldest used a junior hacksaw and my youngest went for a simpler and quicker “snap” method.
Then they had to decide how to fix them together. They tried a number of different ways to tie them without much luck because they just couldn’t get it tight enough. In the end we had to look at real life examples of sticks being tied together to form garden screening. They saw some screens woven together with thin wire and decided to use the same technique themselves but with string. It was fiddly to do but it worked! They wove the string under and over one way and then back the other way with the opposite under over pattern.
They hadn’t realised that the sticks would still be quite floppy and quickly worked out that they needed to stabilise the structure with some sticks going in the opposite direction.
Then it was time to fix on a mast and make a sail. They used a low temperature glue gun to fix the mast because they knew it would be waterproof and decorated paper sails with Sharpies drawings and wallpaper scrap collages.
The rafts were largely a great success but the children did find that some of their sails were too big and needed to be made smaller to stop the raft flipping over.
Once they were happy with their designs we took them to a nearby shallow stream to test them out with the current and a couple of teeny tiny waterfalls.
This Stick Raft Building STEM Project is a fun idea for kids of all ages. Younger children can be given some adult support and older children can really challenge themselves to create some fantastic and functional designs.
Safety Notice: Never leave children unattended playing with or near water.
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