The great thing about this month’s experiment is that you can use the same materials again and again to build different things. So once you make a box full of the materials, keep it month and build something else when you need a challenge! I’ll post a list of things to build at the end of the article.
20 popsicle/craft sticks
10 plastic straws
8 paper clips
4 index cards
4 Dixie cups
2 rubber bands
1 piece of paper
Glue and 2 feet of masking tape
Now that you have your supplies, it is important not to use more! In engineering, there are things called “constraints.” This means that you have something limiting your design and that you have to figure out the problem with what you have
Don’t use the glue as a “weight,” just to connect things.
For this first experiment, build a bridge! Make the longest bridge you can, and make it be wide enough to have a Matchbox car roll across .
Give yourself an hour, or some other reasonable amount. This is another constraint!
To test out your bridge, use two chairs and see how far apart you can keep them to hold up your bridge.
The bridge idea is one I like to start with because it has no moving parts to it. You learn a little about the materials, how they fit together, how to best use the tape/glue, etc. Here are a couple of ideas for the next time you need a challenge:
Tower: Build the tallest structure
Catapult: Build device that will launch a ping pong ball the furthest
Wind-Powered Car: Build a vehicle with spinning wheels that is powered by a fan; make it roll the furthest
Bow and Arrow: Create both the bow and arrows with the materials, going for distance (be careful with this one!)
Can you think of any other designs?
For each of the ideas for designs, try to think of another level of testing you can do, sort of like a “bonus” mission. For instance, in the bridge design where the main idea was to go for length, add an additional challenge like “how much weight can it hold before it breaks?” For the catapult, add a challenge to know down as many stacked cups as you can in three shots. Be creative!
Another level of challenge would be to go up against a friend or two. Just keep your supply box filled and you’re good to go!
I hope you enjoyed this simple experiment. If you have more questions about this, specifically around the science fair aspect of this experiment, contact the author.
Steve Davala is a high school chemistry and physics teacher who likes to write and work with Photoshop. He’s got two kids of his own and subjects them to these science activities as guinea pigs.