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STEAM: Art Squares

Hi Guys,

This past week it was my turn to plan our bi-weekly STEAM drop in activity. For those of you who are not familiar, STEAM stands for: Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Math. We plan our drop in programs around these all encompassing themes, so the options are literally limitless. We might plan crafts the kids can take home with them or fun activities that build critical thinking skills.

For my week, I wanted to do an activity. I had a few in mind and one that I was really keen on developing:


My idea was to work with ramps, specifically have the kids do a “slow ball roll.” I wanted to give each of the kids a ping pong ball and supply them with a pile of stuff, to experiment with and see what they could come up with to slow down a ping pong ball as it rolls down a ramp. The goal would be to keep the ball rolling but at a slower pace. We would talk about gravity, motion and friction.

After some more thought I decided that, given the number of kids we tend to attract, the project was just too complicated for a large group. Because we get so many kids and there are so few of us working with the group, we have to set up activities where the kids can work on their own, while we go around the group instructing. So this was a no go for now but at least I’ll have it in my pocket for a rainy day.

A colleague of mine actually came across the activity we ended up doing. Something like this:


We decided to focus on the Engineering and Art in STEAM and work with Art Squares. Art squares are 3 by 3 inch card board squares with grooves or slits cut into them at random.

These are super easy to make!

In terms of construction, Amazon boxes work great. You want to keep in mind the thickness of the cardboard because this will effect how/what you can build. Heavy boxes may not work and will kill your hand with all that cutting!

I took apart the boxes and measured out all the squares and then set my capable SSL volunteers to the task of cutting. We made sure each of our 700 (yes, 700! phew!) sqaures had four slits at random. The slits could be two to a side, three, none; the more random the better.

Once all the square prep was done, the rest of the program was really easy to plan and organize. I figured I had enough squares for at least 50 children to have 12 squares each and planned my building options accordingly.

I had a list of four “things” for the kids to build. We worked through the list one at a time as a group. I gave the kids about 10-15 minutes per building to create their masterpieces.

The first didn’t have to be pretty, but it had to be tall and all of the structures had to stand up on their own. The last three could look like anything the kids could imagine–I had some dinosaurs and Pokemon–BUT they had to tell me what their structure was and a little about it. My favorite explanation was a poodle/dinosaur hybrid that lived in the rain forest and was fluffy. 


Once we were all done with our 4 structures, the kids were allowed to work in groups to build whatever they could think up. M&M factory, castles, human bodies, an extremely accurate looking alligator. I made a tree and yes, I used more than 12 squares.

This activity was surprisingly a lot easier for the kids then for my few grown ups who gave it a go. I was also pleasantly surprised by the positive response to the program. I thought I’d have a few grumbles from some of the older kids who tend to show up but they took it in stride and everyone did really great!

Overall, this was a really successful program. I did it twice in the same day for two different groups; the majority of the cardboard squares held up and I was able to save them for another day.

That’s all for today!


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