Home Good Teaching STEAM Learning with the Paper Chain Challenge

STEAM Learning with the Paper Chain Challenge

by Peggy Reimers
A closeup of three paper chains.

Every teacher could use a few team-building STEAM challenges to keep in their back pocket. Bonus points if they’re inexpensive to set up and focus on what students can do with simple materials. Read on to learn about a fun idea to test students’ problem-solving mettle with the Paper Chain Challenge!

The Source

I love working in the brick and mortar building of TCEA HQ, but it is also invigorating to get out on the road. The best part of workshops is connecting with teachers. I love hearing what their students are learning and what technology they are using to get the learning accomplished.

This fabulous STEAM activity comes to you courtesy of Kathy Sleeper. She is the STEAM Lab teacher at Bullard Elementary School in East Texas. This is one of her first activities to start off the year. While it works as a great icebreaker, it would also be great any time you are looking for a STEAM Challenge or a team-building activity.  It’s very inexpensive and requires no prep other than rustling up three items.

Students will work together in groups to make different paper chains. They will collaborate to see what strategies they can find to make the longest chain possible. All you need to do is give them a piece of paper and lots of room to experiment and problem-solve.

Equipment Needed

  • One piece of 9 x 12 construction paper. Provide a different color to each group.
  • One pair of scissors
  • One small glue stick

Student Objectives

During this challenge students will do all of the following:

  • Analyze a problem.
  • Create a plan prior to construction.
  • Try different paper-chain size solutions.
  • Build student communication and collaboration.
  • Reflect on the process.

The Set Up

Divide the class into groups of three or four students.

Display of paper chains by classes.
Photo by author.

Have each group write down their predictions for what will happen. How long do they think their paper chain will be? What strategies do they expect will increase the length of their chain?

Allow 20 minutes for the teams to plan and execute their paper chains. 

Call time’s up!

Give time for teams to measure their chain.

Hang each group’s paper chain on the wall. 

Reflect on the process. Did their process work as they predicted it would? What would they do differently next time?

For a quick and easy group reflection, make a copy of this Google Form and have students fill it out.

Hopping on the Chain Train

Are you ready to see what your students can do with just a piece of construction paper and a lot of ingenuity? Good luck with your paper chains! Let me know how it goes and share your students’ record lengths with me at preimers@tcea.org.

Featured image photo by author.

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1 comment

Crysten Hopkins June 9, 2019 - 3:06 pm

The Pink Chainiacs are attending our first session at TCEA…lots of problem solving, critical thinking and FUN!!


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