STEM Play Packs – Deck of Cards

House of Cards

Aim: Build the tallest house you can from the cards.

Supplies: Deck of cards; flat solid surface; paper; pencil; meter or yard stick or tape measure.

How to play:

  1. Use as many cards as you want from one deck to build a tall house without damaging the cards.
  2. Try planning your house by drawing it out on paper so you can look for the problem spots before you start building.
  3. Use a measuring device (meter or yard stick) to determine how tall it is. Your body can also be a measuring device (how high on your body did it go).
  4. Record your measurement and try to go higher next time.
  5. Test if your structure can withstand a slight breeze by fanning it.
  6. Test if your structure can withstand an earthquake by bumping the table you built it on.
  7. To make this a competition divide the deck in half and give each half to a person.
  8. Once your structure is complete, try removing cards slowly and see how long it stands.
  9. For an extra challenge, can your house hold a small toy or stuffed animal?


Questions to Ask

    • What do the shapes you create as you build - rectangles, circles, triangles - have to do with how strong it is?
    • How big should the bottom of the house be compared to the top? Why?
    • What did you change in your plan as you were building?
    • How does the surface you build on affect your construction?
    • How did removing cards affect the structure?
    • How did you feel trying to build with the cards?


Where is the STEM?

    • Science: Shapes have different strengths.
    • Technology: Use a tool, a pencil, to do your planning.
    • Engineering: Solve how to build a tall structure from cards, test, and redesign.
    • Math: Recognizing and repeating patterns can be helpful.

What is the Science?

All scientists and engineers, in fact everyone, use a process to solve problems. However, scientists and engineers do not give up if their solution to a problem doesn’t work, they go back and redesign. Engineers are often given a problem and limited materials (like just one deck of cards) which can make the job more challenging and requires creativity to solve. You will have to have patience and control to succeed.


Guess the Number

Aim: To work out the number by asking 20 or less questions.

Supplies: Paper; glue; scissors; deck of cards; masking tape; 2 or more players

Create a hat with a space that will fit a card. A strip of paper with a rectangle shape glued to the front, is one simple way to do this. You will need some masking tape so that the card can easily be changed or put it in the brim of a stocking cap.

How to play:

  1. Take out the face cards except Ace – this will be number 1.
  2. The player picks a card without looking and places it on their ‘guessing hat’ using the blue tack.
  3. The player then has 20 questions to work out what number they have.
  4. The questions they ask can only be answered by the other players with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Make it more difficult – Pick two cards to create a 2 digit number.

Questions to Ask

    • How can you ask one question to narrow the number of choices you have remaining?
    • What do you know about the way numbers are the same or different?
    • How could the symbols on the card help you when asking questions?
    • What can you do to make sure the hat will fit you?


Where is the STEM?

    • Science:Asking good questions is an important skill.
    • Technology: Using tools like scissors or glue to make your hat.
    • Engineering: Designing a hat to fit your head and that will hold a card.
    • Math: Learn how numbers are the same or different, look for patterns.

What is the Science?

Learning to ask meaningful questions is an important skill. It is the first step to begin a science experiment. If you don’t know what you are looking for, it is hard to find answers. Scientists and engineers start with a problem and then write questions that will help them solve it.



Aim: End up with the most cards. 


Supplies: Deck of cards; 2 players; card value table (below); post-it notes (optional)


How to play: 


  1. See the card value chart below to know the value of each card. The four aces to 1s.  The four Queens are 0. All number cards represent their face value. (Table below for reference) 
  2. If you have post-it notes, you can put a note on the card showing the value in the chart.
  3. Shuffle the cards and deal all of them face down alternating each player. Players stack their cards into a pile.
  4. Each player turns over a card.  Whoever has the higher number card keeps both cards.
  5. If you have a tie, put down another card and whoever has the highest number will keep all four cards.
  6. The player with the most cards at the end wins.


Try a different way; 

Make it a little more difficult by using addition. Players turn over two cards and call out the sum.  The player with the higher sum keeps all the cards.  The player with the most cards at the end wins.


Card Values
Queens 0
Aces 1
Jack of Diamond 11
Jack of Spade 12
Jack of Hearts 13
Jack of Clubs 14
King of Diamond 15
King of Spade 16
King of Hearts 17
King of Clubs 18
Joker 19
Joker 20


Questions to Ask

    • How long does it take for someone to be the winner? 
    • Play five games and time each game. Add up the times and divide it by five to find the average amount of time to play a game?
    • How would putting a shorter time limit on the game change the results?


Where is the STEM?

    • Science: Math is used to describe things in science.
    • Technology: Post-it notes are a new technology that has an adhesive that won’t harm paper and is removable.
    • Engineering: Make a device or system that helps you shuffle.
    • Math: Number values are the foundation of math, addition is a basic skill.

What is the Science?

Using mathematics, information and computer technology, and computational thinking is one of the eight science practices. Math is a language that scientists use to make models, record their data, to look for patterns in the natural and built world, describe and measure, make comparisons, and to communicate their findings.It would be very difficult to do science without math. How would you tell someone how long it took for the water to boil? Or tell them why one thing was stronger than the other. Numbers and computational thinking are everywhere. 

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