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Item description

This is a set of 5 themed STEM challenges (or STEAM challenges) centered around the story of a shipwrecked traveler stranded on a deserted island. After watching the introductory “movie trailer” and hearing the story of the shipwreck, students will read 5 of his diary entries. Each entry will challenge them to design and build something to help him survive and get back to civilization:

Includes 5 separate challenges:

  • Island Architect: Construct A Hut
  • Crocodile Crossing: Build A Bridge
  • Message In A Bottle: Waterproof Container
  • Pirate Defense: Coconut Catapult
  • Float Your Boat: Raft Design

These STEM challenges use common materials that you probably already have in your classroom. They incorporate concepts of linear measurement, weight measurement, area, force and motion, properties of shapes, simple machines, and scientific process.


Each challenge includes:

  • teacher instructions
  • student challenge sheet
  • planning and design pages
  • scoring rubric

There is also a set of team member role cards, design process cards, a master score sheet to find out which group is the most successful at helping the explorers, and associated NGSS standards.

The file includes both standard and metric versions.

The intro video is included in the file but can also quickly be viewed online here: Great Desert Island Video Introduction



These STEM challenges are fully planned out making it easy to get started. They are also highly engaging because students are involved in solving a real-life problem.


❤️ “I use this as a STEM club activity. I love how it is broken into challenges. That in itself makes it paced and planned for my students – they are finally not rushing to just produce – they are actually following the scientific method!!!! Thank you!” – Kelly S.


❤️ “Fantastic Unit, especially as a newby to STEM. Provides clear opportunities for group work, great rubrics and explicit STEM focus and procedures, and an awesome way to engage and enthuse the students! Thank you.” – Penny


❤️ “Students were thrilled with this project and how exciting it was! Highly recommend using this in your STEM classroom! This very easily walks you through the process of problem based thinking as well!” – Kellie



How long does each challenge take to complete?

This somewhat depends on the age of your students. I have found that the older students spend more time brainstorming and really planning their designs. They are also more careful when building and testing. Each challenge includes reading part of the storyline. This may take 5 minutes or 15, depending on if your students engage in conversation about it. Then students will need to brainstorm, plan, and collect their materials. The actual building and testing portion of the challenges usually takes about an hour. If you want your students to go back and make improvements to their designs, that will add more time. Overall, I would plan on using two class periods to complete each challenge from start to finish.

Why don’t you list specific quantities for each material?

It is important to remember that STEM is a process that requires brainstorming, hypothesizing, planning, designing, and testing. If you tell students how much to use of certain items, they will use exactly that much. This completely defeats the purpose of STEM and turns it into doing a craft. We want students to think about what would work best to meet their goal. When you tell them exactly what to use and how much, you’re doing the thinking for them. You can certainly limit how much students can take of each material. The challenges are very flexible. They include a list of suggested materials and note which ones are actually required. You can eliminate, limit, or add any other materials you like. Remember – a true STEM challenge should not resemble doing a craft.