The Best STEM Challenge EVER!

One of my very favorite STEM engineering challenges ever is my paper chain challenge which comes in my Nursery Rhyme STEM pack. (Don’t let “nursery rhyme” fool you; it’s actually for upper elementary!) Read on to find out why this one is my favorite!


Best STEM Challenge Ever Paper Chain

Improve Student Learning with a STEM Challenge

The thing I love most about STEM engineering challenges is that they give students a place to fail! Yes, I said fail. They get to flounder a little bit and then build and learn from their mistakes. It is the perfect setting to practice and sharpen growth mindset and problem solving skills like grit and perseverance. The skills that they develop participating in STEM challenges carry over into all areas of the classroom, as well.

The paper chain challenge lends itself particularly well to practicing growth mindset because, well, it’s not easy to build a successful chain. It’s not impossible, but this is not one of the challenges where students will whip up a chain in 3 minutes and be done. Students will have to build a failing chain in order to see what they need to modify and adapt to make it stronger.

Another bonus to this challenge is that you are working with measuring liquids, and I always welcome a chance for students to get to measure in liters and milliliters. It makes those concepts so much easier for students to grasp when THE test comes around.

Top 3 Reasons Students LOVE this STEM Challenge

  1. It’s out of the ordinary. It’s not every day that your teacher asks you to create a paper chain that will hold a bucket of water. They are always intrigued by the idea.
  2. It’s the right amount of challenging. Most students will not be able to get it on the first try. It definitely takes trial and error, but it is doable.
  3. It’s surprising! The first time I did this, my students and I were absolutely amazed at how strong the paper can be! We just kept pouring and pouring water. In fact, our bucket handle broke before the chain did!

Top 3 Reasons Teachers LOVE this STEM Challenge

  1. Simple Materials! It requires only newspaper, a bucket, and some water.
  2. Easy Preparation. Other than printing any recording sheets you might need and gathering the SIMPLE materials. (See above), you don’t need to cut, glue, laminate or do much to prepare.
  3. Highly Engaging. There is nothing better than looking out at your class and seeing everyone engaged in hands on problem solving. This is one of those projects that students don’t want to stop doing.


Here are some example chains that we tried:

STEM Paper Chain

Here is a video of my testing paper chains with my son at home. You can hear how excited he gets when “it works!”

By the way…I’m using these graduated cylinders (affiliate link):

I had them in my classroom, and they were durable and come in a variety of sizes… I loved them so much that I bought them for home, and my kids love playing with them in the bath tub!

Helpful Tips:

*Do not use plastic sand buckets! The first time I did this, I used a plastic sand bucket. Bad idea!!! The handle broke off because the chain could hold too much water for it to handle. You will definitely need a bucket with a strong handle! When our handle broke, our cafeteria manager let us borrow a 5-gallon bucket. The chain even held that with water! The green bucket I used is from Dollar Tree.

*The bucket gets HEAVY! It was much too heavy for my third graders. You or another grown up will need to hold it.

*If you have time in advanced, have students bring in newspaper from home.

If you like this STEM project, click the images below to find it in my TPT store! 

paper chain STEM challenge

Or you can find it as part of this bundle:
nursery rhyme STEM

Pin for later!

Best STEM Challenge paper chain

More Amazing STEM Challenges Your Students Will LOVE

Click on any of the images below to read about more STEM challenges from other STEM educators.

Graphics and Font Credits: KG Fonts and PhotoClipz

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