Encouraging Creative Thinking with STEM Bins

January 7, 2019

When you pass out base ten blocks, unifix cubes, or any other manipulative to students, what do you expect they’ll do?  Chances are, they will immediately begin building towers, structures, and patterns without being prompted. And things were no different last month when the STEM TLC Team took our  STEM Bins to four different grades of classrooms at Oak Hill Elementary School and Murphey Traditional Academy!


"Whoa!  I LOVE Legos!" exclaimed a first grader as she opened her STEM Bin.  Let's be honest... who doesn't love Legos???

STEM Bins are boxes filled with a variety engineering manipulatives (including Legos, Dixie cups, base ten blocks, straws, pipe cleaners, toothpicks, Playdough, dominoes, pattern blocks, and more) and task cards that picture a variety of real world structures that inspire students to create.

"If we put that toothpick there, it could come down and, BAM, catch the mouse."

"Maybe, but I think it could be better..."

"It needs cheese!!!"

In First Grade, J and K used the materials in their STEM Bin


(toothpicks and playdough) to engineer a "trap".  After many discussions, creations, and improvements their mouse trap was created - including a swinging trap door, a cage to hold the mouse, and a small, yellow "treat" of cheese. 

All students, no matter their grade, used the materials in the boxes to construct many different structures - from towers to traps to stadiums to bridges. And instead of being just “busy,” students engaged in creative, complex tasks and were encouraged, by teachers and peers, to think like engineers and inventors. Kinesthetic learners, spatial learners, and logical learners all loved exploring the different possibilities for the building materials.


"This won't work.  Nothing can go down this slide." M, a second grader, said as she expressed frustration over the slide she was engineering with her peers out of Jenga blocks.  Picking up on M’s frustration, her partner said, “I think we should make it higher.  You know, taller.”  “Well…” M said hesitantly. “It will work!” insisted L.  “Two brains are better than one!” 


Activities such as STEM Bins foster curiosity and creative thinking.  Elementary students immersed in these design and engineering activities are empowered to believe that they can work through any problem that they set their minds to.

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