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Building a Nest: An Easy, Engaging, and Messy STEM Challenge!

bird nest header


How I Go About Prepping Students for Building a Nest

Before students begin building a nest, they need to learn about bird nests and the birds that occupy them.

     Observing Nests

Usually, before I start this project, students have been talking about seeing robin’s nests and the classic, bright blue eggs.  Often times, students have already brought in a nest or two that they have found on the ground.  This is the perfect item to use as a “phenomenon.”  Nests keep well from year to year, so I always have some from other years I can use as well.  We discuss the materials that we see used in building a nest.  Are the materials manmade or natural?  Sometimes, nests will have both types of materials.

nest a student brought in

     Learning About Birds

Students always ask questions about robins.  I have created reading passages about them on two different reading levels (one for primary grades, and one for upper elementary students).  With non-readers, I read passages or a book to them about robins.  It is the perfect time to sneak in some other science standards such as external features (beak, feathers, feet, claws, etc.), and a bird’s life cycle.

With older students, I have them research robins online.  The site I recommend is Cornell University’s All About Birds.  This is a very user-friendly site.  The part I like the best is that it has sounds that the birds make.  And, it’s not just one sound, they have sounds for different purposes.  I have made a Webquest for this.  Students work in pairs reading the text to find the answers to the questions.  The most important piece of information they need for their “build a nest” challenge is to find out the size of a robin’s nest and how much it weighs.

Of course, you can do this challenge with any type of bird’s nest.  Students can look at images of nests in books or online and do their own research about the bird whose nest they want to make.

Differentiating Building a Nest

Depending on the level of the students, they get different parameters for building their nests.  The youngest students are asked to build a nest with a specific width.  Some students are asked to build a nest that is a specific width and had a specific depth.  The most advanced group has those parameters, plus they must make the nest within a certain weight limit.

In my class, all nests must be able to hold three eggs (foil-covered chocolate eggs, malted eggs, marbles, or pebbles).  Eggs must stay in the nest when it is lifted off the table.

building a nest

Building A Nest

Building a nest is one messy, but fun experience!  My kids had a great time making them outside.  I would recommend doing this if you can!

Students work in small groups on this engineering project.  Once they know the parameters, we head outside to collect our materials.  I give each group a bag to collect their materials in (twigs, grass, dirt, etc).  If your school grounds don’t have those things, ask students to collect them with their families.

Since they need to make mud to hold the nest together, water needs to be provided.  I give the students paper plates to build on.  Using paper plates gives the nest stability for moving while they are wet.  It also reduces their nest-building size because, without the plates, I found kids tend to build BIG!  Then when they are done, the nest can dry overnight.

What Other Teachers Said About Building Nests

“My kids LOVED this! They were experts on bird nests when it was over and made the most creative bird nests!”

“Great activity! My students were engaged the entire time. They even asked if they could improve their bird nests the next day by bringing in different” materials.

“LOVED this project! Will do this every year!”

     And, if you really can’t stand the thought of a mess…

“Both my students and their families loved completing this project at home. I think they came out way better than if we had done them in the classroom. Great resource!”

Looking to Save Time?

Then, check out these resources.

building a nest activities in TpT shop      

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