One drawback to the instant challenges from the book and others listed online is that they are not environmentally friendly. Many of them list huge amounts of materials, some of which are expensive. If you plan to do an instant challenge each week, with 3-4 teams, you don't want to constantly be throwing away things, even if the experience is valuable.
I adapted many of the challenges I found to cut down on expense and waste. The following list of materials should get you through most challenges you find and create for students, although you won't need all of these things for every challenge:
Scratch paper, letter size, for folding/building
Construction blocks-Legos, dominos, K'nex
A critical concept of instant challenges is that there is no adult assistance or interference during work time. Teams receive written directions. The first couple of times, instructors can read the directions to the whole group and get students to note the point values in the scoring to show them how to prioritize their time and effort.
If students ask questions during work time, adults refer them back to the written directions. If teams are stuck, adults let the teams be stuck rather than offering suggestions. At first, taking a step back can be very hard for adults and for students.
There are only three ways I intervene with students during an instant challenge.
First, I announce when there are three minutes, one minute, and ten seconds remaining. At a competition, students should learn how to manage their own time, but this is a gentle way to keep them on track.
Second, if it is a challenge I am trying for the first time, and a student poses a question I hadn't anticipated that isn't covered in the written directions, I will answer it.
Third, if a team is having a meltdown-level conflict about how to proceed, I will step in to get them on track, but I don't make the decision about how they will complete the challenge.
It is common to have students who only want to use their ideas, and sometimes they prefer to work by themselves. Since instant challenges are about learning to work productively in teams, that is not a time those students can elect to work independently. However, I do usually assign teams so that the number of people and the level of conflict is manageable.
Here are two very simple, introductory instant challenge examples. I have used these activities successfully with students from first grade through eighth grade.
Teachers and parents are welcome to use these free resources for non-commercial use, but please keep the author credit visible, and please link back to this website on digital versions.
Instant Challenge #1
Task: Build the tallest possible free-standing structure.
“Free-standing” means it can stay up by itself
Time: 5 minutes
Materials: blocks, Legos, Dominos, snap cubes, and/or index cards
You may use a ruler while you build, but it cannot be part of the structure.
You may not use any materials other than those you are given.
You will not be given any additional materials after your work time starts.
Height 25 points for structures at least 1 foot (30 cm) tall,
plus 5 points for each additional inch (every 3 additional cm)
Teamwork 25 points if all team members participate the whole time, listen to each other,
communicate politely, and work productively to complete the task on time
Creativity 2 points for each vote for most interesting structure
Each individual person gets one vote, and no one may vote for a structure s/he created
1) Do not touch any materials until you are told to begin
2) Adults cannot give help or advice—your team must do it all
3) An adult will tell you when there are 3 minutes, 1 minute, and 10
seconds left to work
4) If your structure is not at least 12 inches tall, it will not be judged
5) Be sure you read all the directions on this page carefully
Tip: It is a good idea to assign one team member to be the Directions Expert—the person who reads the directions very carefully and goes back to ensure the team has met all the requirements by the time there is one minute left.
The second Instant Challenge is available in a Google Doc through the link.