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Practical STEM High School Projects for Wood Technology Classes

STEM projects are a fun way to engage students, and even have them lead their learning.

While many teachers associate STEM with coding and robots, I like to focus on the practical engineering aspect. And the good news is that Woodwork rooms are already set up with many of the things required, so it’s not too much of a stretch to run projects like these.

I also don’t have access to any ’emerging technologies’ in my workshop (like laser cutting or a CNC) so these ideas don’t involve any of those

So here are the projects that I run that are considered STEM

1. Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition

Students build bridges in small groups which need to meet a few criteria, then at the end of the allotted time, we put weight on them and break them.

It’s fun and the competition does have some drama. It’s also quite straight forward to run.

Popsicle Stick Bridge Entry

2. HangTime Competition

This is like the old ‘egg drop competition’. But instead of trying to protect an egg, students are trying to slow down their entry and be the slowest in their class. This touches on, materials and construction methods in the practical side, and physics and aeronautical engineering in the theory.

I like this project because you can modify how you run the competition and all the rules to suit any situation. You can see how I run my competition along with all the resources I use here. (Although I do charge $10 for this.)

Hang Time Competition Entries

3. Paper Towers

This is a good place to start because it only takes one class. All you need is some paper (newspaper or A3 printer paper is good), masking tape and a tennis ball. Students need to build a tower that holds the tennis ball for 10 seconds. The winner is the tallest tower.

FYI – The tallest tower I have had with a standard size newspaper is 2.125 metres tall.

NOTE – I make students tear the tape into approx 25mm pieces first so they don’t overuse the tape.

4. Balloon Towers

This can be a lot of fun. Similar concepts to paper towers but instead students are taping balloons to each other to build a tower. I typically give students time (5-10 min before the end of class) which the towers will be measured, and the highest tower at that time wins.

I also give students ear protection at the start of this class, and I typically blow up some balloons before the class starts so students don’t feel light-headed…

NOTE – Some students (like those with autism) won’t like the loud bang when the balloons pop (which does happen). So it’s best to assess the cohort for suitability before running this activity.

5. Pinewood Derby

I was introduced to the pinewood derby by an American friend. Their scout movement runs the races.

Kids create an entry using pine, some wheels, and a dowel or skewer stick. Then they basically drag race down a ramp.

You can allow some weights to be added to the cars to add some complexity if it suits your students.

6. Rube Goldberg Machine

Rube Goldberg Machine

The classic project gets recycled under the STEM banner. I love running this because there is minimum prep. Just give students the scrap bin, a hot glue gun and access to the screws and nails and off they go.

NOTE – I usually put a few caveats on the project like they must have at least one lever and one pulley.

7. Eraser Catapult / Ballista / Trebuchet

Kids love to throw things so why not indulge them.

When I ran this project I needed to limit the number of elastic bands (2) that students could use, as this is what they were using to power their machines. A fun project, students were quite motivated.

Our test was to hit a target from different distances away.

NOTE – You can find videos on YouTube like this one about how to build trebuchets and other devices

In Summary…

These are my best ideas so far on how to incorporate STEM into a woodwork room relatively easily and simply.

They can be used for any classroom really, but a woodworking room makes it a little easier.

I also have a few ideas in the pipeline so if they turn out feasible I will add them.

Thanks for reading.