I am SO excited to show you this new STEM activity! Lasers are always a big hit with kids. But these laser puzzle boxes also require kids to think logically about angles and build a precise setup while getting to play with lasers. It’s so much learning and fun at the same time!
I’m really excited that I was able to find materials that won’t break the bank. Hopefully this will be an attainable project for most classes and groups.
We tested these projects with my middle school science class (12-13 year olds). It went perfectly with a unit on sound and light. We had been discussing waves, and the fact that light travels in straight lines.
I’m going to show you two ways to do laser puzzles with kids. Our laser puzzle boxes are perfect for middle schoolers, but upper elementary kids can also build laser puzzles with mirrors right on the table.
Because we’re using laser pointers, this activity is for kids who:
- Can treat the lasers and mirrors appropriately so they don’t break.
- Can act responsibly with the lasers so that they never shine in someone’s eyes.
Some 8-9 year olds will be able to handle this… but others may need to wait until they are older.
- Laser pointers – one for every 3-4 kids, if possible
- Small square mirrors – I bought ours at Michael’s craft store
- Shoe boxes and other cardboard boxes
- Binder clips
- Masking tape
I bought the laser pointers at Staples. They are pens! And they were the best price for a laser pointer – only $9.99. I can’t find this same pen on their website to show you, though. There are lots of options on Amazon, like these cat toy laser pointers.
The mirrors came from Michael’s craft store. It was only $1.99 for a pack of 5!
Binder clips allow the mirrors stand up really well. This is wonderful because it’s so easy to move and adjust the mirrors. However, it also works well to attach the mirrors to the box with masking tape.
Laser Challenge #1: Puzzle Boxes
I gave each group one laser pointer, 3-4 mirrors, and 6-10 binder clips. Only one group chose to use tape.
For my class of 13 middle schoolers, we made four puzzle boxes. Two were shoeboxes and two were other shipping boxes. We cut 2-3 holes in each box, and each box had a different layout for the holes.
- The laser needs to enter one hole and come out the other.
- Use at least 3 mirrors.
- No shining the lasers in people’s eyes!
The box picture below was our hardest one because the holes were not at the same height.
The students were really excited about this challenge! So much fun.
Even though we had just talked about the fact that light reflects at the same angle at which it hits the mirror, the students still had to think about where the laser beam would go. It was a good thinking activity, but not so hard that it was frustrating.
Here’s another box that was a lot of fun. The entrance and exit were on the same side of the box.
Once a group “solved” their puzzle box, they could trade boxes with another group and give that box a try.
Laser Challenge #2 – Tabletop Mazes
The laser puzzle boxes were a bit hard for my 7 and 10 year olds who were eager to try the lasers at home.
I used a piece of paper to make a target or goal, and taped it to one of the mirrors. Then I had the kids set up 2-3 mirrors in a pattern leading to the goal. They had a lot of fun with this!
Here’s another one of their designs:
Have fun exploring with lasers!
Need more simple STEM challenge ideas? We have so many engaging activities that kids will love.
Here are 30+ Engineering Challenges – with simple materials like boxes, play dough, marbles, and more.