Thursday, January 26, 2017

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STEM Activities for Kids: Great Wall of China Challenge

A hands-on STEM activity for kids + the Great Wall of China = AWESOME fun and learning!!  ;D

The Chinese New Year celebration this year starts on Saturday, so I thought it would be fun to focus on China for this week's Geography Club. I knew I needed to include a Great Wall of China activity, and decided that letting the kids actually deal with some of the challenges of building on a mountain would be a perfect STEM activity!

I lived and taught in China more than a decade ago, and I still remember being surprised that the Great Wall was actually built along the top of a mountain range! There are places where the wall is only two stories hight, but getting to it would still be a huge feat because it runs on the tops of  mountains!

I showed the kids some pictures of The Wall and we talked about some of the details of its structure and building process. The boys in our group especially loved the watch towers with weapons arsenals along it! Finally I introduced the STEM challenge: to build their own "wall" along "mountain tops." 

To represent the mountains, I took three huge wedge-shaped pillows and laid them out about two feet apart. I presented the kids with a big pile of cardboard "bricks" (you can see a picture in the affiliate links at the bottom of this article) and told them that the Great Wall in China was strong enough to carry chariots and armies across the top, but they did get to a sort of cement as they built. The challenge today is to build a wall over the three "mountains" that is strong enough to hold a big bouncy ball as it rolls along the wall (representing a chariot rolling along the wall). 

Right away they asked if they were allowed to use other tools and, of course, I told them they could use anything they wanted, as long as they didn't destroy anything or make a permanent wall. Obviously, no cement was allowed.  :)  

Right away they started trying to figure out different ways of making a wall and making it work. They tried at least three different designs! I loved watching them work and try to figure out the best, strongest, most secure design.

In the end, they built watch towers over each mountain with chairs, and draped rugs across the entire wall to help hold everything together. I think they ended up using the bricks I supplied, chairs, rugs, and the bins the bricks were in to build their wall.

There was a little bit of drama as they worked through group dynamics...some kids (usually the younger ones) had ideas that would have broken the wall pretty quickly, and other times some of the older kids had ideas that the younger kids just didn't like. It was a tricky balancing act, but they did pretty good.

Here's a quick breakdown showing how this simple geography project integrates all four aspects of a STEM activity:

SCIENCE: scientific method, predicting, testing, analyzing, physics
TECHNOLOGY: all the random tools the kids came up with to build their wall (To learn more about using technology in STEM activities and projects, click here.)
ENGINEERING: designing and building a wall that will support a rolling ball
MATH: Analyzing qualitative distance and strength of different building materials

It took about half an hour before they were willing to announce the project was done, but it looked great. During the rest of the day, the wall was actually torn down and rebuilt at least twice, which tells me it was an engaging enough activity that it was revisited a couple times!  

Here is their final design with the ball ready to roll:

This STEM activity + geography = a recipe for success! The kids learned a little more about the Chinese, experienced some ups and downs during an engineering project, and finished happy. Let me know if you use this idea...I'd love to hear from you!!

If you and your kiddos like geography themed STEM activities, check out my growing collection HERE

And if you're looking for more STEM challenges, projects, and activities, you will love my BIG collection HERE!

Happy Educating,

Have you seen HEEP? It is a preschool homeschool curriculum! Learn more here!

I may share at any of these parties!

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