Star Book STEM Challenge #1

In my district, we have 8 “Star Books” that we read to our children 5 times each at the beginning of the year. This is to get them familiar with the characters and plot so we can later work on complex skills like retelling, vocabulary, and problem/solution.

Our Star Book titles include:

  • Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
  • The Gingerbread Man
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • The 3 Billy Goats Gruff
  • Corduroy, by Don Freeman
  • Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
  • Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells
  • Caps for Sale,ย by Esphyr Slobodkina


Because our kindergartners quickly become familiar with these stories (and retell them easily by heart!) I thought they would be the perfect context for STEM challenges. I’m in the process of finalizing the rest of the STEM activities for each of these books, but I wanted to share this first challenge with you now.

Harry the Dirty Dog

For those of you who haven’t read it,ย Harry the Dirty Dog is pretty simple story. A dog named Harry runs away from home and gets very dirty. When he returns, he is SO dirty that his family doesn’t recognize him, but unfortunately he buried his scrubbing brush so they can’t bathe him. Luckily, Harry is a clever dog who quickly digs up his scrubbing brush, begs for a bath, and the family then welcomes theย clean, recognizable Harry back into their home. I have to tell you, every year this is one of my kinders’ favorites! Something about Harry being so dirty he changes colors is extra silly to them.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

Harry & STEM

After reading the book a few days in a row, I introduced this STEM challenge to my students. It builds upon the context of Harry hiding his scrubbing brush out in the yard and asks the students to get him there.

This may look like a basic map skills activity, but the goal of this is more of an “unplugged” coding activity. Think of Harry as the robot and the arrows the students use as the “code” to get him to his goal.

For this STEM challenge, I put my students into partners and really emphasized collaboration and communication. I was SO impressed with how well they worked together! (especially since it’s only week 4 of kindergarten!!) If you look closely at the map, there are at least 3 possible solutions for getting Harry to the scrubbing brush. I left this open-ended so that students would have to talk and make ONE decision together. This gave way to a lot of great conversations and justifying thinking.

Partnerships all took different routes to get Harry to his scrubbing brush (and some had some arrow troubles along the way_, but in the end, ALL were successful! What I loved most about this activity was hearing them reason why they went one way v.s. another. One creative group even used their extra arrows to return Harry back to his house after getting the scrubbing brush! It’s this out-of-the-box thinking that is the goal of STEM challenges and it makes my little geek heart so very proud. ๐Ÿ™‚

Try it for yourself!

The nice part about me testing these on my own students is that I had a chance to work out some of the kinks for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ As a result, I created two different versions of this activity: one geared for primary students like my kindergartners, and one geared for upper elementary students.

Like this activity? Download it for free here!

More Star Book STEM challenges coming soon! Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @ElementaryGeek to be the first to know when they post. And as always, let me know what you think in the comments below!



  1. CBishara

    26 November

    I am very anxious to implement your other STEM activities linked to the 8
    literature books you have listed!. Please release asap. Thank you.

    • Elementary Geek

      28 November

      Hi there! I’m so glad to hear you liked the Harry activity! Challenge #2 is coming by the end of this week and will be based off of the book Bunny Cakes. I have a few finishing touches to put on it and then it will be up on my TPT store and blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. C Bishara

    28 January

    Thanks again. We look forward to all of your literature stem activities!

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