Mini Challenges

What are STEAM Minis?
Each mini unit is designed to target two or more STEAM areas.  Each project begins with an introductory project or activity and includes a related video with discussion questions. Many of the projects have extension activities to target additional STEAM topics.  Each project typically takes 1-2 class periods to complete with some of them lasting longer with the extension activities.

Projects Available - Click the links to skip to those sections on the page.

  • DaVinci Bridge - A twist on popsicle stick bridges with an exploration of DaVinci as an artist and scientist.

  • Super Stackers - A cup stacking challenge with an extension activity to identify environmental impacts of plastic on the Earth.

  • Soda Straw Bridges - The basic soda straw bridge with extension activities to explore bridge engineering using online simulations.

  • Consumer's Challenge - Students explore the truth behind "double stuffed" Oreos and then develop their own experiment to test an advertising claim

  • Science of Rainbows - Students learn how to use graduated cylinders to create a "rainbow" and then investigate the science of color.

  • Chromatography Challenge - Students learn the basics of chromatography using markers and filter paper and then apply it to fall leaves.  The extension activity allows  them to use radial chromatography to "tie dye" t-shirts.

  • Saving Sam  - Students save the "gummy bear" Sam and then learn how gummy bears are made plus investigate what happens when left in water overnight.       

  • Time to Change - Explores the differences between physical and chemical changes with some "rocket reactions" as the extension activity.

  • Hobby Huts - Students design their own spaces using a simple activity and online room layout tools.   They also explore eco-friendly building designs.         


DaVinci Bridge (Science + Engineering + Art)
One of the first projects I do with my STEAM class and always a challenge!  Students need 18 jumbo popsicle sticks and access to the Internet (or printed instructions from the Instructables page). Click the project name to download the presentation with links to the Instructables page with step-by-step instructions.   The final slide shares a You Tube video with background about DaVinci and several discussion questions to explore the connections between art, science, and engineering.   I also have a list of tutorials and related videos on the Physics page of the Kid Zone.

Project ResourcesPPT Presentation

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Super Stackers (Science + Math + Engineering)
Another fun project with lots of extension ideas to discuss (renewable vs. nonrenewable, recycling, engineering design).  Click the project name to download the presentation with basic directions, five challenges with varying levels of difficulty, a YouTube video exploring how plastic cups are made, an extension activity related to learning about the materials used to make the cups, and a challenge for the teams to develop their own stacking challenge. Also check out the Cup Stacking Collaboration project at Middle School Science with task cards and more questions to extend your lesson.

Project ResourcesPPT Presentation

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Soda Straw Bridges (Science + Engineering + Technology)
This activity comes from Teach Engineering and involves the challenge of making a bridge out of plastic straws.  Click the project name to download the presentation I  use for this project.  The slides include an overview of the project, links to two videos from Kahn Academy about bridges, and follow-up discussion questions.  The project also includes links to online challenges for bridge building, which are also available on the Physics page of the Kid Zone.

Project Resources:  PPT Presentation

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Consumer's Challenge (Science + Math)
The first activity involves testing the truth of the "double stuffed" Oreos by measuring and comparing the mass of each type of cookie.  The related video discusses controlled experiments along with independent and dependent variables.  The extension activity is a challenge for students to identify an advertising claim that could be tested with a controlled experiment, such as the strength of paper towels or the effectiveness of a stain remover.  They work with a partner to design and conduct the experiment.  At the end of the unit, students present their results to the class for a peer review. 

Project Resources: PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet
Also check out the full Consumer's Challenge project and Old Wives Tales lesson on the General Science page!

Alternate Version: Do your students need practice with measuring mass?  Try this version with a section added to review using scales to find mass - click here for the PPT Presentation & Student Worksheet

Need a review of how to use triple-beam balances?  Check out this activity from for more details.

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Science of Rainbows (Science + Math + Art)           
The first activity challenges students to create a "rainbow" by accurately measuring colored water into 6 test tubes.  If they measure correctly, they will have six colors and with the same volume in each test tube.  The related video discusses the science of rainbows and extension activities challenge students to identify primary and secondary colors.  The extension activity involves students picking a "cool color" challenge (ones from the YouTube video or others they find online).  The students provide the materials to recreate the challenge and then explain their observations in scientific terms.

Project Resources:  PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet

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Chromatography Challenge (Science + Art)
During the introductory activity, students learn about chromatography and create their own chromatograms using a variety of water-soluble markers to identify different pigments used to make the different colors of ink.   The video for the unit explores the color of leaves in fall and challenges students to use a variety of leaves to see the pigments as they separate on filter paper.  An extension activity allows students to use "radial chromatography" to decorate white t-shirts (or any white cotton fabric) using permanent markers and rubbing alcohol. The project could also be done with round filter paper and used as a decoration.

Project Resources:  PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet
Also check out the chromatography activities on my Forensic Science page!

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Saving Sam (Science + Math + Technology)
The first activity for this unit is the classic saving the gummy worm Sam after his boat capsizes.  The related video and discussion questions explore how gummy candy is made.  The extension activity challenges students to predict what will happen to a gummy bear if it is left in water overnight.  They have to make measurements to collect data that can be used for the before/after comparison. 

Project Resources:  PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet (w/ additional teacher info)

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Time to Change (Science + Math + Technology)
The first activity for this unit reviews physical and chemical changes  The related video challenges students to identify both types of changes and then create a video using their own examples from the schoolyard. The extension activity involves using AlkaSeltzer tablets and film canisters to create "rockets".  Students explore the variables involved with the reaction as they complete the experiment and record their data.

Project Resources:
  PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet

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Hobby Hut (Science + Technology + Engineering + Art + Math)
The first activity challenges students to design a space (referred to as a Hobby Hut - compares to a She Shed or Man Cave - by rolling a die to establish the dimensions of the 10 areas.  They determine a layout for their space and answer math-related questions.  The video targets eco-friendly home designs to give students ideas to make their Hobby Huts more earth-friendly.  The extension activity challenges students to create a 3D version of their space using an free room designer software available online.

Project Resources:  PPT Presentation, Student Worksheet

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Check back soon ... more ideas and projects will be added during the 2019-2020 school year as I develop them for my STEAM class! 

Do you have other resources to share? Have an idea for a mini challenge? Use my contact form to send them to me!



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The Science Spot was developed in March 1999 by Tracy Tomm
Science Teacher @ Havana Junior High, Havana, IL

Activities, lessons, & worksheets available on any page of this web site are intended for use by a single teacher in his/her classroom or to share at educational conferences. Please link to resources rather than download them to your own server/website. Reproduction for commercial use or profit is not permitted without the consent of Tracy Tomm. Visit my Frequently Asked Questions page for more details.