Schools back this week and I have been hatching a plan to engage my new cohort of Grade 5 and 6 students during the first few days of the year. I want something different to the usual scenario of Getting To Know You activities.

What I really want is a way to start with STEM and design thinking skills with the students, allowing me time to watch the dynamics of their relationships with peers, their levels of perseverance, creativity and see their thinking and questioning skills in action. This will allow me as a teacher to observe their capacity to apply themselves and learn, to test possible solutions and to see their thinking in action. This will tell me a wealth of information about my learners right from the start! ( It will also be loads of fun for us all)

After much thinking and researching I came across a group called who have designed a challenge for 8th graders called the Drop, Stop Don’t pop Challenge.

With a few adjustments made to engage younger learners I think I have a winner!

The scenario is that the local adventure park have been designing a new ride called the Dare Devil Stop Drop Don’t Pop!

It’s is a great idea but they haven’t yet been able to get it to work safely and need your help.

Essential Facts Are:

  • The ride has to drop as fast as possible yet the riders have to be kept safe in the baskets.. ( Ping Pong Balls are the riders)
  • The riders must stay in their baskets on impact but restraints, a cover and seat belts are not allowed.
  • When the ride stops the baskets can be no higher than 3 cm from the ground

Equipment Required:

A pole 1.8 meters tall ( for testing the rides)

2 Paper cups per group (baskets for riders)

2 Ping pong balls per group ( passengers)





1 Cardboard tube per group (off cling film rolls, to attach the baskets to and insert over the pole)


To set the scene we will discuss our ideas on the following two questions.

What’s an engineer? What does an engineer do?

Then, as they are participating in the challenge I intend to focus thinking by using the following questions in our conversations:

What’s going on in your team during this challenge? Did you work smoothly together? Did you encounter any problems? What were the problems you encountered and what solutions did you come up with? What connections do you see between what you have done and Maths and Science? How can you make the ride fall slower/ faster? How can you change the impact?

The format of the lessons after a short introduction will involve lots of hands on designing and testing, designing and testing over and over again. I intend to ask them to complete their first design in just fifteen minutes and be ready to test with the class having a discussion first about which designs they think will work and why and the similarities and differences they can see between the designs.

I want the class to realise that like engineers do, they will find that there is more than one way to solve a problem, and further to this that they can apply this mindset throughout the year in our classroom.

And……they might even enjoy it!

Right now I am looking forward to starting the year with STEM. (Thanks to for the idea and inspiration)


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