STEAM in Action: Building as a team

Injecting creativity and teamwork into building block activities.

Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards is a 4-H Youth Mentoring program offered by Michigan State University Extension in numerous communities in Michigan. The program uses various Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) projects to help youth build long-term mentoring relationships with adult mentors. Since the focus of the activities is to strengthen their mentor relationship, projects often put a unique spin on STEAM that encourage improving communication, teambuilding and life skills. This series, STEAM in Action, will feature the various creative approaches and the mentoring staff member who facilitated these great ideas.

Lisa Kelley, 4-H program coordinator for the 4-H Tech Wizards program in Oakland and Macomb counties, was faced with a dilemma. The best practices around creative, critical thinking in STEAM encourage projects that “throw away the instructions” and are very self-guided, but many of the mentors and mentees with which she worked were not ready to make that leap. Armed with large bins of K’Nex and Legos, Kelley decided to take a different approach to a free-build session at the next program meeting. She started the meeting’s project time by separating everyone into their small group mentoring matches and gave each match some building supplies. She instructed each person to begin building for five minutes. At the end of five minutes, everyone passed their project to the left and began building onto their neighbor’s creation for five minutes before passing again. This creative adjustment to a simple building session has some pretty cool results:

  • A time limit adds urgency. It’s easier to make up things as you go if you only have to for a few minutes.
  • Informal conversations can start as people try to figure out what the previous builder was doing.
  • Mentors are engaged as participants alongside their youth mentees.
  • The mentoring staff member can facilitate the activity rather than teach or instruct.
  • All of the final products are a result of the creativity of the whole group, not just one member.
  • Reflection discussions on how the project went can continue to engage everyone.

Rotating builds have become a regular project for 4-H Tech Wizards mentoring sites around the state and work well for recruitment presentations too! Watch for more STEAM in Action articles featuring creative project approaches from our team.

Interested in being a mentor and helping to come up with innovative projects? Contact Lisa Kelley at 248-858-1509 or

Other articles in this series:

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