STEAM Project: Design Challenge with Sticks, Clay, and a Mandarin

STEAM activity challenge for kids: engineering challenge to support a mandarin

This open-ended STEAM project encourages children to use creative and critical thinking skills to build a structure, with limited supplies, to support a mandarin. Once you set up the building invitation, stand back (or build side-by-side) and watch imaginations unfold. Sky is the limit, creativity is encouraged, and all solutions are welcome!

New to STEAM? STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. A STEAM project incorporates at least two of these disciplines in one project. In this challenge, we will work with engineering and art. 

supplies design challenge

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The Challenge

Build a structure, using at least 15 skewers, to support a mandarin.


* Note: If you have a different size skewer, that’s fine, too!

The Set Up

The set up is simple. Clear the table and set up the supplies, including a small collection of  Wonderful Halos mandarins. They are a great snack time treat, and can be included in creative engineering projects to teach kids that healthy snacking is fun. They’re in season from November to May, and I can’t forget to mention that Wonderful Halos are sweet, seedless and easy to peel, perfect for kids and adults!

  1. Fill a cup with skewers.
  2. Open box of modeling clay.
  3. Gather Wonderful Halos mandarins
  4. Print out a challenge table card (optional – see below for link to PDF)
  5. Place all the supplies on the table and invite your child to build a structure, using at least 15 sticks, to support a mandarin.

steam activity challenge support mandarin

The solutions we saw were wildly different.

The LOW structure

This totally stable structure was able to support multiple mandarins. Scroll down to see the results. None of the mandarins touched the table! This solution actually prompted a new challenge to build a structure that can support more than one mandarin.

low structure stem challenge

The Speared Structure

This one gets points for ingenuity. Nothing in the challenge says that the mandarin has to balance on the sticks. Totally cracked me up. Genius!

multiple solutions stem challenges

The Tripod Solution (above)

The above structure was built with 4 tripods and exactly 15 sticks. Works like a charm!

All of these solutions prompted more challenge ideas!

steam project: design challenge with sticks, clay, and a mandarin

We tested this with a group of Stanford students (so fun – they’re such a brilliant group!) who came up with more novel solutions.

steam challenge stanford

more stem challenges

Make the Tallest Free-standing Structure

Make the Tallest Free-standing Structure you can, using just 20 sticks. My 7-year old loved this one, especially with Wonderful Halos by her side. Just look at her face to see how proud she is to accomplish the task!

STEM activity how tall can you build a free standing structure_

Build a Structure that can Support More than one Mandarin

This one was mentioned earlier. My 9-year old loved got wrapped up in aesthetics during the assembly process.

stem activity support multiple mandarins

steam project: design challenge with sticks, clay, and a mandarin

Build a Vehicle using sticks, clay, and mandarins

Two of the aforementioned Stanford students built this truck, inspired by the Stanford d.School Truck, an old fashioned truck, parked right inside the Hasso Platner Institute of Design.

YouTube video

Download the STEAM Mandarin Design Challenge Cards

Click the image below or click this link to download your FREE Design Challenge cards.

steam project: design challenge with sticks, clay, and a mandarin

Thank you Wonderful Halos for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.

More Projects like this one

Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge

DIY Paper Tube Marble Run

Fort Building Kit

DIY Water Wall, it’s like a marble run, but with water!

Build an easy light table

Make Gumdrop Sculptures


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