This is a guest post from Ruth Thomas, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist. Please click the links within the post to see lots of videos of our STEM+ in action.

Just say “STEM+”: In Lower School, It’s “Amazing”!


Webster’s Dictionary defines a maze as a “complex system of passages or paths between walls, hedges, or obstacles.” Mazes are designed to allow someone or something to problem solve methods of puzzling through multiple twists and turns.

“Maze construction” uses the principles of the engineering process. At Ravenscroft, students persevere in collaborative endeavors that make use of design thinking in creative and enjoyable ways.

From our youngest students to our most inquisitive teachers, members of the Ravenscroft Lower School community are applying the engineering process to “amazing” challenges.

The Engineering Process

Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve

Goal: New or Improved product, process or system

Kindergarteners become pinball wizards. (click link for video)

In this STEM challenge, students create a paper plate maze game inspired by pinball machines using just a few common craft supplies and a fluff ball. The goal is to construct paper loops that allow one fluff ball to successfully move from start to finish. As usual, the ingenious minds of five-year-olds take the mazes to the next level by adding additional balls that travel through the complicated structures.

Fifth graders program paths for bees.    (click link for video)

Student-programmers design computer codes using basic maze navigation: moving forward, turning left or right, looping and adding additional specifications. Students recognize that there are many ways to solve problems. At last, the virtual flower-seeking bees buzz into buds and blooms.  

Lower School Faculty  construct hexbug mazes. (click link for video)

Teachers are students, too. During a recent department meeting, Dr. Laura Bottomley, the director of the NCSU Engineering Place, initiated an engineering challenge for our Lower School instructors. The task was to build a maze for battery-operated creatures called hexbugs to successfully maneuver. Each hexbug labyrinth included the following characteristics: a hill, an obstacle, a 90-degree angle, a dead end, and a “sound change.” Ready, set, go! The novice teacher-engineers had 10 minutes to imagine, plan, create, test and improve their creations. Success was measured by the hexbug’s ability to travel through the maze unassisted by the builders.  

In addition to the hands-on engineering experience, Dr. Bottomley shared additional resources that carry STEM+ beyond the classroom: The Engineering Place, NCSU Student Summer Programs and Parent Resources from the Engineering Place.

Our instructors immediately began using their new learning with Lower School students. Kindergarteners, first graders, and fifth graders combined a variety of materials to meet the outlined parameters of the mazes. “Bugs” were everywhere. Failure was not an option. Resilience, resourcefulness, and adaptability resonated through the Lower School Makerspace.



Fifth graders add to sophisticated labyrinths.  (click link for video)

Innovation thrived with the fifth graders. The students used “littleBits,” or electronic building blocks, to increase the sophistication of the tricky pathways. Imagine the possibilities! Our motivated collaborators continued to build and rebuild, improving their designs with every opportunity. Fifth-grade engineers explained their strategic creations with PreK.


In Lower School, we are learning by doing. We are learning that the “e” for engineering in STEM+ is “amazing.” Through these hands-on, minds-on opportunities, each student experiences an engineer’s visionary power. How many world-changers are being inspired by battery-operated bugs, wooden strips, electronic blocks and masking tape?

Stay tuned…. more engineering surprises are coming to a classroom near you during Professional Engineering Week in February.


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