Observing Spider Webs
Before creating a spider web, give students a chance to observe spider webs. The best thing to do is to take the children outside and ask them to look for webs. Tell students to observe and not touch the webs. While observing, ask them to draw what they see. If you can’t go outside to observe, show students a variety of photos of webs. Here are two that I found on my back deck.
One strategy to use with the students is the See, Think, Wonder Strategy.
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?
Additionally, ask children how the webs, or structures, are the same and how they are different. Do they know what the function of a spider web is? Their function is to detect and catch prey.
Different Types of Spider Webs
Naturally, before creating a spider web, students need to know about the different types of spider webs.
Orb webs are the webs that most people picture when they think about spiders’ webs. These are spiral, wheel-shaped webs. Spiders create these webs at night. Consequently, insects can’t see them, so they fly into the web and get trapped.
Another type of web is a tangle web. This web is a messy web with no shape. It is just a bunch of silk attached to something. A cobweb is a kind of tangle web that is found in houses. They collect dust and dirt.
Sheet webs are flat webs kind of like a hammock. They hang between blades of grass or between branches. Spiders that create a sheet web also build a tripwire above it. When an insect hits the tripwire, it falls into the sheet. The spider is waiting below the sheet to bite its prey.
Spiders create funnel webs in short grass or bushes. The spider waits at the bottom of the funnel for its prey. When its prey lands on the surface, the spider shakes the web to trap the insect.
Spiders as Engineers
All things considered, spiders are quite the engineers! Just like engineers design and create complex structures to make something practical, so do spiders. Here is a video that shows how spiders make and use their webs.
Creating a Spider Web
Finally, it’s time for students to create their own spider webs. Students use what they know about spider webs and spiders to design a web and make a spider to go with it. STEM challenges have constraints. For example, children use only the tools and materials provided. Or perhaps there are size constraints, such as the web must be at least ten inches across, or the spider must be smaller than six inches and attach to the web. If done at school, provide the tools and materials. The tools that I give the students are a ruler, a push pin or hole punch for making holes, and an iPad for looking at different types of webs and spiders. The materials they can choose from are construction paper, yarn, string, pipe cleaners, brass fasteners, egg cartons, tape, and glue.
If the challenge is done at home, tell students to use whatever materials they have available. However, they need other constraints, like the size limits to make it a STEM activity.
Usually, students are intrigued by one type of web and know what they want to build. I team up groups of two or three and they begin building. Other students are interested in a particular type of spider, so they look up information to find out what kind of web the spider makes. Before creating the web, I ask the teams to draw their design and write down the materials they need. Here are some student examples.
Here are reading passages for students and directions for the challenge.
Researchers are studying Spider Webs
Spider webs have properties that make them strong, flexible, and light. According to Smithsonian Magazine (12-3-05), “Many researchers are studying spider behavior and spider silk in hopes of someday being able to farm the material or perhaps replicate it through genetic engineering. The silk could be used, for instance, to increase the strength of body armor, or create skin grafts.
If you have students who are particularly interested in spiders and their webs, share this information with them.
Other STEM Challenges
If you are using this around Halloween time, here is another STEM challenge about bloodsuckers you might enjoy.
You might also be interested in reading this post about boat building.
Pick a challenge and have fun!