More Maker Math


In today’s blog I will discuss how three “maker” projects can be tweaked to include more math. They could be tweaked further to make them into true STEM activities as well, but I will not go into that in detail in this blog.  Feel free to contact me if you want ideas on how to do this though - I’m happy to help!

The original ideas for these projects came from an article from Scholastic. You are welcome to check out the others mentioned and send me your ideas for tweaking them as well!

The Catapult Challenge

The aim of the first project can be summed up nicely with this open-ended directive given to the student, "Create something that can fling something else.

The original project:

What You Need: Options include K’nex or other building sets, rubber bands, Popsicle sticks, toilet paper tubes

NGSS Standards: MS-ETS1-1; MS-ETS1-2; MS-ETS1-3

marshmallow catapult.jpg

Best For Grades: 6–8

What To Do: Define catapult for students, and explain that they will create their catapults individually or in teams. Give them time to work through the design process. Establish ground rules, such as never pointing their device at another student and testing it only in a designated area. End with a shoot-out competition for distance, accuracy, or speed. 

The tweaks: Have students

  • Discuss what is important to determine how “good” a catapult is
  • Measure those things (e.g. distance)
  • Collect the data
  • Determine how to organize that data (e.g. graphs)
  • Compare the results
  • Analyze the data (e.g. statistics, equations or inequalities)
  • Describe the findings (i.e. mathematical communication)

Super Paper Creation

The second project has the goal, “Figure out how you can use paper to hold the weight of your textbook a minimum of one inch off the table for at least one minute.

The original project:

What You Need: Scrap paper, scissors, rulers, pencils, books to use as a weight

NGSS Standards: 3-5-ETS1-1; 3-5-ETS1-2; 3-5-ETS1-3

Best For Grades: 3–5

What To Do: Divide students into teams, and tell them that each team must figure out a way that paper can support a book or other weighty object a minimum of one inch above the table or floor for at least a minute. Ask students if this is possible, and when they say no, cut a piece of paper into one-inch strips and fold the strips in half. Will enough of these support a book, or even a stack of books? Encourage students to experiment.

The tweaks: Have students

  • Devise a solution to the given problem
  • Create a mathematical model to describe that solution (e.g. for each set of curled paper strips, the weight can be increased by 10%)
  • Test that model (repeating the process and collecting data for each)
  • Revise the model if necessary
  • Repeat
  • Share the results (i.e. mathematical communication) using appropriate data visualization tools / techniques

Gummy Bear Wave Machine

gummy bear wave.jpg

The third project

The original project:

What You Need: Duct tape, gummy bears, skewers, set of clamps

NGSS Standards: 4-PS4-1; 4-PS4-3; PS4.A: Wave Properties

Best For Grades: 4–6

What To Do: First, use clamps to tautly attach the ends of a long strip of duct tape, sticky side up, to the ends of two tables. Center skewers equally across the tape (about five centimeters apart) with the pointed ends sticking over each side. Stick gummies on the ends of the skewers. Gently tap one end of the tape (or a skewer) to start the wave. What happens when the wave reaches the end? 

The tweaks: Have students

  • Time the first wave (Note: this may require prior discussion of how to accomplish this, parameters, etc.)
  • Determine a particular parameter to test (e.g. spacing of the skewers)
  • Create an experiment in order to test the effect of that parameter on the data
  • Perform that experiment, collecting the data needed
  • Analyze the data
  • Communicate results using appropriate mathematical models / data visualizations

Here’s another version of the machine you could build for whole class use:

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Especially, I would love to hear if you have additional ideas for maker math or STEM projects that you’ve used with students.


Link for “Joy of the Maker Movement” article

More on The Catapult Challenge

More on Super Paper Creation

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The Solver Blog

Author:  Dr. Diana S. Perdue

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