The Power of Student Challenges

Over the last few years, I have students participate in the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge. Within our program, we do what we can to promote collaboration and problem solving, and I can think of no better way to do that then to let students take on real-world problems to solve. Most of the time, we do this in a personalized learning format, which usually entails educators collecting resources, thinking through the process, designing appropriate lessons, and organizing and breaking down the steps students will need to take to complete their project. Putting a project together like this really can be a daunting and time-consuming task for most educators (especially with everything else on our plates). Now there are plenty of products out there with a “Personalized Learning” or “Problem/Project Based Learning” labels, but not all of them are designed as wholly as the 3M Young Scientist Challenge.


We have approached the 3M Young Scientist Challenge in several different ways.

  • Through whole group instruction
  • In stations/centers
  • Through individual projects such as Genius Hour.

The resources provided do not just make my job easier in regards to this challenge, but with STEM activities in general. The 3M Young Scientist Lab website is jammed full of a variety of lesson plans, family activities, and interactives that begin at kindergarten continued through sixth grade and are available throughout the year whether you participate in the challenge or not.

In my opinion, one of the best resources is Project Template.  This template does a beautiful job of leading students with questions to foster independent thinking and problem solving, which is needed in any academic discipline. We have found the template so helpful that students have utilized it with other projects as well. Many of the resources available on the Young Scientist Lab website focus on the hows and whys of problem-solving rather than the problems themselves and as an educator, I believe that is where the MAGIC is.

Sure I might use the 3M Young Scientist Challenge to get my students excited about the idea of problem-solving and I am sure it would be wonderful to see one of my students progress to the finals. However, my motivation for participating goes much deeper than that.  It is like the old Chinese Proverb says, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Real independence is what I aim for in my classroom on a daily basis and thanks to Discovery Education and 3M my job has been made easier.

There’s Plenty of Time to Challenge Your Students

The 3M Young Scientist Challenge closes on April 19th! 

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10 Comments

  1. Gervase said:

    Getting kids interested in science at an early age is so important. I feel that after around the age of as little as 7 or 8, interest dwindles

    • Frances Snyder said:

      Science (STEM) is everywhere and Discovery Education along with several of their Educational Partners do a great job of giving you the resources to encourage students of all ages to do just that. Where I agree that some students interest in science might dwindle as they get older I believe we need to work hard to get all student more hands on and meaningful opportunities with STEM.

      If you would like to check the DE Educational Partners’ resources for yourself here is the link to their page https://teachers.discoveryeducation.com/education-partnerships/.

    • Frances Snyder said:

      Where I agree that some students’ interest in science might dwindle as they get older I believe we need to work hard to get all student more hands on and meaningful opportunities with STEM. Science (STEM) is everywhere and Discovery Education along with several of their Educational Partners do a great job of giving you the resources to encourage students of all ages to do just that. If you would like to check the DE Educational Partners’ resources for yourself here is the link to their page https://teachers.discoveryeducation.com/education-partnerships/.

  2. Glenda Aguilar said:

    This is a great article it incorporates the use of a higher order thinking. I do feel that this type of project base learning through STEM would be ideal in a COVA model classroom. This would solidify the use of choice, ownership, voice, and the experience of authentic learning. I can also see the benefits of integrating STEM cross-content. By doing so English Language Arts can embed reading and writing skills into Science, Technology, and Math in an elementary school setting. My only concern would be how do we provide the adequate and consistent capacity for teachers to do so? similar to saying “If we teach a man to fish, but moves he to the mountains would it still benefit him to learn how to fish?”

    What I notice lately at least in my district is that we implement great initiatives such as STEM and Dual Language, but when the consistency of training teachers, resources, and alignment to a vision is lacking then not only do the programs fail but students are impacted in a negative manner as well.

    I do like 3M Young Scientist Challenge and I believe that it would recommend my campus to take a look at this to be part of it.

    • Frances Snyder said:

      I do appreciate the COVA model, but feel that there are many frameworks out there promote the same sort of things that this model produces (i.e.. Challenge Based Learning, Problem Based Learning …..). I personally have used several of them and I believe that a great framework is only as good as student ownership in that framework. Where I believe that academic frameworks and language are important twenty years from now, the most important thing will be can these students problem solve. I completely agree with you that providing adequate and consistent training for teacher would be beneficial and there is such value in that. In fact, Discovery Educations has some incredible avenues and different ways to implement training plans and I am sure would love to talk to any district interested. However, there are individual teachers out there in districts and schools where (for whatever reason) this is not happening well. This is where a well designed challenges like this can really play a priceless role and believe me I know. I currently teach Gifted at four different Title I elementary schools in Florida and in many ways I feel very on my own and without Discovery Education, the DEN Community, and DE Educational Partners I truly believe that we would not be where we are today. For the last two or three years, together we have provided an environment that has helped my students who, based on Florida’s Value Added Model -VAM, have outgrown their peers. I owe DE a great deal of gratitude for all they do!!

      Please continue to promote 3M Young Scientist Challenge. It is a good one!!

  3. facetime on android said:

    Your style is unique in comparison to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this site.

  4. Tdc said:

    science is a very important step in early years. This is a great project for our kids.schools should incorporate tech to make funny the science

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