The Unsharpened Pencil Challenge

I am so, so, thrilled to share one of my new favorite resources.  I stumbled upon an amazing blog entitled “Growing a STEM Classroom”, and even though I don’t teach Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, I just HAD to try one of the activities featured!

growing a stem classroom

I started out by planning an activity to correspond with our celebration of Read Across America Day.  I wanted to share the whimsical Dr. Seuss story of If I Ran the Zoo.  I purchased a packet of five STEM challenges from the Smart Chick Teachers Pay Teachers page that correspond to the book, one of which was entitled “Build a Zoo Cage”.  Students are to work in small groups and are given a plastic zoo animal, a 2×3 piece of cardboard, five straws, and some glue and tape.  They have 30 minutes to work through the design process to build a cage that willhold more weight than any other.

Well, that plan got scrapped.  We’ve had some awful weather here in PA and numerous delays and a cancellation put a major damper on our schedule.

But I couldn’t give up.  I wouldn’t give up.  I found another resource from this same blogger that contained home challenges with very simple materials.  I chose, “What can you do with an unsharpened pencil?”

I let the students pick their small groups, handed them a pencil, and let them go crazy in my mini-makerspace.


They were somewhat familiar with the design process from two years of technology class, but I gave them a handout anyhow.


Some found it very difficult to produce something with purpose in such a short amount of time!  But all of the ideas were certainly creative!  Here are my favorites:

A fork:


A homemade duster:


A rock star action figure:


It was an eye-opening experience for me!  In a time when the stakes have been risen to astronomical heights, when standards are beyond complex,  and testing takes longer than ever…

It is nice to know that our students have not lost their creativity.  It may be buried, but it is still there.  I hope you will join me in offering more STEM or STEAM challenges in your classrooms.  You will not be disappointed if you check out Growing a STEM Classroom and the corresponding Teachers Pay Teachers page.  There are so many great activities that you can incorporate into ANY subject area.