Quick STEM Challenge for Kids – Engineer a New Paper Clip
A Quick STEM Activity – Design and Create a New Paper Clip
Quick STEM Challenges are the perfect way to practice the engineering design practice when you are short on time. These challenges can be completed in one to two class periods or an after school session. I recommend this challenge for kids in grades 5 and up if you are using wire.
A paper clip sounds simple, right?
This challenge is so much fun because it sounds so simple, but is in fact one of the more difficult STEM challenges based on student feedback. If you ask students to describe a paper clip, they will probably tell you about the Gem paper clip, which has been around well over 100 years. There are other styles, of course, but this simple and elegant design proves superior to many competitors.
Introduce the Quick STEM Challenge
I always go over some background information and vocabulary before starting a STEM activity. For this challenge, you may want to talk about the history of paper clips or the cold drawn steel process. What are some things they notice about the paper clip? How does it hold the paper together? What happens if you bend it too many times? What are the limitations, or how many sheets can it hold? What are some other ways to keep papers together?
Gather Your Materials for the STEM Challenge
Though you can do this activity with cardboard (such as cereal boxes) or even straws and tape (shown above), it is so much fun to work with wire! Cut the wire to various lengths, or allow your students to do it with wire cutters and supervision (safety goggles are also a good idea). Students will need to use needle nose pliers to form their paper clips. For reference, the wire below is 18 gauge stainless craft wire, but you can use paper clips you already have and just straighten them out.
Brainstorm Design Ideas
Before creating a new paper clip, students need to come up with some ideas. What do they notice about paper clips they have used? Will they want to make simple turns, use a shape-in-shape design, or something else (their initial? a favorite fruit? another shape?)?
Create the Prototype
It can take a bit of practice to get used to bending the wire so leave ample time for this step. The bend radius will be determined by both the wire gauge and the pliers you have on hand (if using wire).
Test the Prototype
Does it hold 5 sheets of paper together? What about 10? Does the paper remain flat or does it crinkle? Is the paper left intact or does it get damaged from the clip?
Based on the paper clip test and feedback from peers, redesign the paper clip and make a new one. Retest it and see how it compares.
Think About Other Design Considerations
If you were to mass produce your paper clip design, what are other factors you might need to consider? Is it easy to package? If you make multiple clips, do they tangle together? Would 100 of them fit into a box that holds 100 Gem paper clips?
As you can see, there is a lot to think about even when designing the simplest product. I hope your kids enjoy this one!
Get the Full Resource
I have created a full lesson to support this quick STEM challenge. It includes word wall cards and pages to guide students through the engineering design process and can be found on Teachers pay Teachers.