Last week I had the privilege of presenting a session at a STEM education conference here in Indiana.  Now, whenever I go to a conference, I enjoy doing hands-on activities. And I don’t like sitting through sales-pitches. You know the ones that show you a bunch of awesome ideas, only to find out that to actually do any of those activities, you need to purchase the kits that cost thousands of dollars each? Instant downer since there is a 1% chance my school will ever be able to afford it. So I created a session where I shared a few STEM/Engineering Design activities that could be used in many different classrooms, on a very low budget, any time of the year.

I’m not sure I should say this, but I was shocked at the number of people that wanted to attend my session. We filled up the large conference room! I would like to believe this was because my session description was so intriguing. Or maybe it is because most teachers want quick, easy ideas that are still awesome. However, it probably did help that right next store the conference was giving out snacks during the break and I was the closest session…

Sort It Out Activity

One of the activities I shared was Sort It Out. This is a great way introduction to engineering design for your students. I have tried it with as young as 3rd graders and as old as adults! It can be easily adapted or changed to fit the needs of your classroom.

The original idea for this came from . This link will take you to the activity that has a the full lesson plan pdf, student worksheets, and a powerpoint! Background research about how coins are made and sorted is included which can be a great extension.

Although all of these are very helpful resources, I often like to make my own worksheets that are less wordy and allow more space for students to work. When I originally did this lesson for 3rd graders, I had to adapt it quite a bit. Here is the Sort it Out pdf worksheet that I have used in the past!

The idea behind this is that there are a bunch of coins that got mixed up and a device needs to be created in order to sort these coins. 

Here is the prompt I use:

Mrs. O’s coins are all mixed up! She needs them separated easily in order to use the coins for different things in class. Can you help design a sorting mechanism that will make the job easier?

The materials I use for this are:

  • Cups
  • Construction Paper
  • Toilet Paper tubes
  • Cardboard
  • Foam board
  • Plates
  • String
  • Felt
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Again, these materials can be flexible – use what you have! For example, sometimes I use plates, sometimes I don’t. I don’t always have all these materials on hand, so I simply switch it up. It keeps kids creative!

Students first plan out their ideas individually and sketch everything out. Then, students are 

placed into groups and come up with one team design. If you are doing this in younger grade levels, it can be helpful to plan out roles for each group member. For example, one person might be the “Materials Director” and the one in charge of getting materials and recording what is used. Another might be the “Time Manager” or the “Spokesperson” for the group. This way, each member knows how to contribute to the group’s project.

Students then design and build their device! Obviously, you can limit the amount of time they have to work on each part. When coin sorting devices are ready to test, simply give each group a handful of coins and ask them to demonstrate!

Adaptations and Extensions

  • Only use quarters and dimes – using the largest and smallest coins may help younger students out. By using all four coins, you can challenge your students!
  • Time how long it takes for the device to sort a certain number of coins. Whose can sort a certain amount of coins the fastest?
  • Connect this to math by discussing diameter, circumference, or mass

The adults at the conference loved this idea. I even had some good devices created during the session, like this one! The point is to make it your own for your class and get those coins sorted!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *