STEM projects are all about combining the different aspects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and putting them towards real-world applications. They help foster creativity, ingenuity, and problem solving – and if done correctly, can be lots of fun.
Coming up with STEM projects and gathering all the supplies for them can be a hurdle to doing activities. That’s why we gathered some of our favorite STEM projects based around a supply we always have too many of: paper clips!
These STEM projects with Paper Clips are easy to set up, quick to put away, and serve as a fun STEM challenge for kids, whether you’re learning at home or in a classroom.
Do Paper Clips Float?
Prompt this question to your kids. Chances are, like most people, they have no idea.
If you were to drop a paper clip into a glass of water (which we recommend you do first to set up the activity), the paper clip will sink to the bottom. That solves that question, right?
In fact, paper clips can float, but only with a little understanding of science to help.
- A Paper Clip
- A glass or bowl of water
- Paper Towel
Gather a few paper clips and a small glass of water. Try to get a paper clip to float, without touching the water.
Creativity and experimentation are welcome. Some kids may try to redesign their paper clips shape or attach all their paperclips together. Ultimately, the solution to this problem comes down to one very important factor – surface tension.
Surface tension is like a thin “skin” that forms across the top of the water. Surface tension is caused by the molecules in the liquid being attracted to each other. They want to stick together and stay close and the effect is like they were covered with a stretched elastic membrane.
After watching the paperclips repeatedly sink to the bottom of the glass, demonstrate this idea of surface tension by proving paper clips can indeed “float.”
The easiest way to do so is by first floating a small piece of paper towel on the surface of the water. Gently place your paperclip flat on top of the paper towel. The important thing here is to not break the surface of the water, because that is what is actually holding up the paper clip!
Initially, the paper towel is supporting the paper clip. As the paper towel absorbs water, it gets heavier and sinks, leaving the paperclip to “float” on top.
Water’s surface tension is strong enough to hold the paper clip. Touch it and break the surface tension, however, and the paper clip will sink immediately.
We can observe surface tension in action with some insects. Though they are heavier than water, insects like Water Striders (Gerridae) make use of surface tension to move across the water. It also allows liquids to form drops, rather than spreading out across a surface.
Estimation & Counting with Paper Clips
How many paperclips long
Let’s take it one step further and look at some common objects. How many paper clips long would you estimate they are?
- Your Shoe
- A Pencil
- A Crayon
- Your pet
- A fork
- An Action Figure
How many paper clips in the chain
While you’re chaining paper clips together, you can do a math STEM activity for estimation. How many paper clips do you think are in the chain?
Paper Clip Magnet (and compass)
Here’s another STEM Project with Paper Clips that is extremely simple to do, and has great scientific principles backing it.
You’re going to teach your students how to make a magnet out of a paper clip, and all
- a cork
- a cup or bowl of water
- a magnet
- a paper clip.
By rubbing a paper clip against a magnet, thereby magnetizing the paper clip, it will then align itself with the Earth’s magnetic field. Once it’s able to move freely, it will then show you, and the rest of your amazed students, a north-south reading.
After that, all you need to do is attach your newly magnetized paper clip on top of the cork, and place both of them in your glass of water. With the cork, your paper clip will be able to float and move freely. Now try and turn the glass any which way. No matter which way you turn it, the paper clip will always rotate back to face north and south.
Design Your Own Paper Clip
All this project will require is a paper clip and a couple of sheets of paper, as well as creativity.
The task is simple: Can we come up with a new and improved design for the paper clip?
To begin with, explain what the job of a paper clip is – to hold papers together and be removed easily afterward for constant reuse. Now give your budding engineer plenty of time to tinker with their designs to meet those two objectives. Kids can test out their designs and see if their own paperclips can hold a few sheets of paper together and still be removed without disturbing the papers too much.
How well do the designs work? What could they do differently? What makes you think the paper clip was designed the way it is?
Wrap Up: STEM Projects with Paper Clips
If you need an activity that doesn’t need much setup and uses common household items, these paperclip STEM challenges may be just the thing. Whether it’s a thought problem or a challenge to make something denser than water float, a simple paper clip can provide a quick and easy project.
Paperclips are handy for any crafting station or makerspace! Make sure you’ve got everything you need to make your own STEM makerspace!
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