Home STEM/STEAM The Solo Cup Engineering Challenge

The Solo Cup Engineering Challenge

by Peggy Reimers

Way back in the 1990s, I attended a STEM workshop at ESC Region 13. I’m sure there were many activities I participated in there, but the one I remember most was an engineering challenge with Solo cups. This activity stuck in my brain, and I just never forgot it. A couple of years ago when I started developing STEM professional development, I easily pulled the Solo Cup Challenge from the recesses of my brain. It fits perfectly for a team-building activity, the start of a professional development day, or just a great engineering challenge.

The Solo Cup Challenge

Here are the goals of the challenge:

  • Teamwork
  • Cooperation
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication

Here are the required materials per team.

Materials required for each team to complete challenge. Materials are listed in text.
  • 6 Solo Cups
  • 1 rubber band
  • 4 pieces of string
  • 1 timer for the group

The One Rule of the Challenge

Participants cannot touch the cups with their hands or any other part of their body.

Finished pyramid stack for the solo cup challenge.

Lesson Process

  1. Create a grappler tool with the string and rubber band (this will move the cups).
  2. Place the cups in three stacks (figure 1).
  3. Move the cups by using the grappler tool into a six pyramid shape (figure 2).
  4. After the pyramid is complete, teams raise their hands in the air and give a shout.
  5. Repeat the activity.
  6. During the second time, the facilitator can keep track of completion times for each team.
  7. Use reflection questions to wrap up the activity.

Reflection Questions

  • How well did your team work together to move the cups?
  • At what point in the activity did you feel like everyone was working together?
  • Describe a moment when your team became frustrated. How did you work through this?
  • Tell how one of your team members exemplified collaboration or communication.

Twist It Up!

Here are some ways to make the challenge a little harder.

  • Try using the inexpensive cups found at a dollar-type store. (The plastic is thinner, which makes it harder)
  • Try six people in a group.
  • Hold two rounds:
  •        Round 1 – Team members can speak to teach other.
  •        Round 2 – No talking is allowed.

The Solo Cup Challenge is awesome because:

  • It its a mega bunch of 21st standards.
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • It is so much fun!
  • Both kids and adults love this activity.
  • It takes little prep time.

Whether you call this activity Stack ‘em Up, the Solo Cup Challenge, or Pyramid Builders, it has gone through a few iterations; you can check them out below. I’m sure you can pull even more twists to build on.

Featured Image: Designed by TCEA.

Solo Cup photos by author.

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