Using Strawbees in the Classroom

    Learn how to use Strawbees in your classroom environment.

    We recognize each classroom is unique and that is why we offer a range of equally excellent products and content, balancing personalization and structure without compromising quality. You will have access to a full range of student resources and ways to navigate through, highlighting different learning strategies and expected outcomes.

    Our learning expectations are tightly coupled with Sustainable Development Goals and focused mainly on transferable skills, leaving room for you to incorporate the expectations from curriculum standards. Some ideas might resonate while some might be the direction you want to move towards or avoid. In any case, we hope Strawbees can be the bridge between you and ideas that seemed impossible before.

    Creative Learning

    A classroom with Strawbees transforms into a dynamic and collaborative playground with opportunities for students to interact, experiment, and create overlapping projects. In this imaginative space of making and playing, children refine their creative thinking while building projects they care about. As they build, their process is reflected as the Creative Learning Spiral.

    It is essential for us to cultivate creative thinking in younger generations, which is at the heart of Creative Learning Spiral projects. In addition to preparing them for an ever-evolving job market [1], we want to live in a world where children “…must learn to deal creatively with uncertainty and change – not only their work lives but also in their personal lives (how to develop and sustain friendships in an era of ever-changing social networks) and their civic lives (how to participate meaningfully in communities that have ever-shifting needs and boundaries).”[2] Through creative and collaborative project-based learning, this is exactly what Strawbees aspires for students to engage in the classroom.

    Resources and Support Materials

    In Strawbees Classroom there are student resources. These learning materials are designed to be distributed to be flexible depending on your student’s learning needs. These resources are in the form of a thematic lesson, activity models with building instructions, and open-ended explorations following a creative design process.

    [3] The different categories of student resources.

    There are also teacher support pages in the form of professional learning articles, onboarding, and guides to lift barriers to using the building materials, technologies, and instructional methods with Strawbees in your classroom.

    [4] Dedicated teacher support pages.

    When selecting a student resource and determining which lesson format is optimal for your class, there are several important ideas to further consider in properly planning for an amazing Strawbees learning experience. Practicing building with Strawbees in advance is helpful when ready to support students with their own classroom designs. In building beforehand, teachers can recognize and troubleshoot potential student build issues that might arise while also gathering a sense of how long the build will take their students to complete.

    Basics and Building Your Practice

    Building with Strawbees offers a unique, hands-on way to create both two and three-dimensional designs. These building opportunities improve spatial reasoning as well as enhance dexterity and fine motor skills. To aid this construction and viewing process for learners, it can be helpful to think about and build structures from the bottom up. If you were constructing a rectangular prism, you may create two squares with Strawbees, making sure that the connectors were facing upward. Next, you would attach vertical straws to one of the squares. The last step would be to take the second square and to secure it to the top of the upward-pointing straws, thus completing the rectangular prism build. However, there are many ways to build, so find the method that works best for you.

    [5] The visual steps to a cube.

    This idea leads to another primary principle of Strawbees building: the value of seeing basic shapes. Just as our world is composed of basic geometric shapes, it is helpful to notice and apply these common shapes with Strawbees. Visualizing shapes in builds can assist students in developing the confidence and problem-solving to take on larger, more complex builds. Educators and learners can work together, prior to building, discussing how they decompose (or break apart) these bigger designs into various smaller shapes and more manageable basic builds.

    Material Care 

    Strawbees straws and connectors can be reused and will perform well for a much longer duration if they are well-cared for. Providing modeling and feedback early on will help learners to practice and internalize these techniques. It is key to bend the connectors before gently inserting them into the straws. Bending the connectors puts less stress on the straws, enabling the straws to keep their shape and structure. Students may also hurriedly push, jam, or force the connectors into the straws. This can cause the straws to slightly tear or fray at the edges over time. It is better to lightly pinch the edge of the straw, creating a wider opening for the connector so that it can more easily slide in the straw.

    These same principles apply to taking the connectors out of the straws or removing interlocked connectors. If a learner has created a moveable joint or friction lock, with several joined Strawbees connectors, it is best for the connectors and straws to remove them one connector at a time. Pulling on several connectors at once can be harder on the hands and risks damaging the tips of the connectors. Strawbees can endure all sorts of fun, hands-on testing, and experimenting. However, as straws these materials still have design constraints. High drops, impacts with harder surfaces, and an excess of weight or force pressing down can cause the straws to split. These challenges can lead students to consider interesting engineering and design solutions, such as creating a softer landing platform or collecting lighter objects to test a structure, collect data, and graph how much weight a Strawbees design can withstand.

    Surfaces and Your Space

    Before implementing Strawbees, revisit your learning space to locate the best sites for building. A flat and smooth surface is ideal for constructing and prototyping stationary builds with Strawbees. A wider surface, such as a longer table top or an open tile floor is ideal for offering learners the space they need to craft designs that extend both upward and outward. Thinner carpet, as is often found in a classroom setting, is still suitable as a foundation for Strawbees creations. However, a thicker, softer carpet can create stability issues for the structures.

    [17] Carpets create the perfect amount of friction for Robot Racers to grip the fabric and propel forward without slipping.

    Some Strawbees designs roll, move, and fly, which makes them exciting for outdoor experimentation. Trying out a new learning space, such as an outdoor courtyard, can offer learners a fresh and bright area to explore novel ideas. This may be the best option if the indoor spacing is limited but the educator is working with a larger, collaborative group. It is important to keep building surfaces and space in mind so that students have an optimal building experience and every opportunity to accurately test their latest inventions.

    [18] For needing a large amount of space for a big robot race, moving outdoors gives more opportunity to test collaboratively, especially if indoor space is limited.


    Material Management

    The color-coded connectors and straws make facilitation resources much easier as students can recognize the number of legs on a connector simply by looking at the literal number or actual color of the connector itself. The same goes for the straws being color-coded. Imagine in a classroom where many students are looking for a specific piece and spot the piece they need across the room easily.

    [19] The 4 color-coded connectors.

    [20] The 5 precut straw sizes are also color-coded.

    Storage and Organization 

    Strawbees materials arrive in resealable bags and reusable boxes. In STEAM Classroom, the STEAM School Kit has drawers with organizational trays holding straws and connectors! While these are excellent options, it is also beneficial to consider what storage solutions best support your classroom or at-home learning environment.

    Educators may also choose to create different sliding bins with easy-to-identify labels. Another solution is to purchase low-cost, sliding trays with different organizational sections for the straws and connectors. If your materials are shared among classrooms or within a school setting, a large storage tub with wheels can help educators quickly store their materials while also readying for the next time these Strawbees will be transported from one learning space to another.

    [24] Organizational tray inserts for storage bins are available from IKEA as a very useful tool to store materials.

    [25] Organize pieces in cups or any small container available to easily pass around color-coded pieces for students sharing at a table.

    Sharing and Cleaning  

    Strawbees offers several ideas for addressing health and hygiene considerations. Educators may choose to prepare individual bags or sets so that students only have contact with their own assigned straws and connectors. These bags can be sent home for remote learning or implemented in a classroom setting. Upon the return of these items, the materials can be left in their bags, in a quarantined area for a set period of time.

    [26] Reusable seal bags work for creating personalized kits for remote or social distancing.

    The teacher may choose to not create separate sets and instead opt to share the Strawbees among a group of learners. Students can then wash hands with soap and warm water, along with sanitizing hands and cleaning surfaces after using the Strawbees. It may be helpful to review and consider the health and cleaning policies of your school. 

    The absolute best way for spotless straws is to boil pieces immersed in hot water on the stove's top. Take extra care and caution to not have straws near the hot plate. Steaming above boiling water the straws is also an option.

    [27] Boiling straws and connectors carefully in a large pot.

    For added safety, Strawbees straws and connectors are also machine-washable, yet not as thorough in cleaning compared to boiling in water to get inside the straws. However, they are safe to wash these materials on a high-temperature setting in any dishwasher.

    [28] A method of cleaning connectors and straws is placed inside a mesh laundry bag for delicates.

    [29] Dishwasher for placing the mesh bag of pieces inside.

    Distributing for Group Work and Stations

    Strawbees are lightweight, and when properly organized, easy to distribute and recollect. The teacher can quickly pass out and pick up individual, labeled student bags or clear containers. If students have their own numbered or colored bin, they can actively participate in finding and putting away their own Strawbees sets. Educators will find it useful to develop a procedure or routine for streamlining this distribution process. This will open more time for learning and offer the opportunity for students to take on leadership roles in the classroom. Implementing a stopwatch or timer system can help motivate students to meet distribution or collection targets.

    [30] Passing materials becomes easier with containers.

    The added benefit of Strawbees is that the designs can be rapidly prototyped and also speedily disassembled and stored away in their proper bins. With practice, modeling, and helpful feedback, teachers will have a smooth, quick transition and stay on pace with their lesson schedules. While teachers and learners alike can safely carry Strawbees for distribution and storage, a traveling teacher between different schools still finds it easier to cart Strawbees about. 

    Inside the classroom space, start the creative learning extending across all grades by assigning lesson resources for combined kinesthetic hands-on and visual learning to compliment units taught for the appropriate grade group. In the STEAM Classroom, there is the option to pass out the open-ended challenge cards or coding cards from the STEAM Classroom Robotics - micro:bit and Coding & Robotics School Kits in addition to group work to engineer solutions.

    [31] Maintain creative building stations on a table for a group.

    For early learning, you can combine the activities and lesson resources with reading STEAM-based literature for students to then build solutions to a story’s conflict. 

    Teams of students can then coordinate, communicate, and strategize how to most effectively combine their building abilities to construct different sections and shapes as part of a more sizable and substantial Strawbees fabrication. At the same, some of the best Strawbees prototypes are quite simple. As learners refine their designs, educators can offer guidance and perspective in seeing how some designs can be improved by changing or removing straws and connectors.

    Cutting and Measuring

    The newest Strawbees are brightly color-coded and arrive precut to exact measurements! If you have full-length and same-size Strawbees straws or have white connectors, there is a resource to help with accurately measuring and cutting these straws. Teachers may choose to cut and prepare these straws in advance for younger students ages 5-9 or have older students from ages 10-14 cut their own using this visual measurement handout, which is a downloadable and printable PDF file.

    [34] Using the straw measuring as a guide, you can cut any full-length straw from kits without the 5 precut straws and create your own set to follow the activities on the Strawbees Classroom.