Search this blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

10 Simple Challenges for Hands and Minds

As a mom (of two “active” boys), teacher (of thousands), Science Olympiad and Robotics coach (my self described "Geeks"), scout leader and neighborhood kid magnet (I make a mean pancake),  I have accumulated a great many simple and fun (learning) activities appropriate for home, camp or school.  I always had some kind of “experiment" going on my kitchen counter (and not much else!).  My boys were never one to sit still and do a craft, but if that “craft” became an experiment…they were all in.  Living at a lake we crafted habitats and trapping devices (nets, buckets, jars, boxes, etc) to collect, examine, identify and study the multitude of critters.  (I am sure there are still plenty of turtles with a dab of nail polish on their shells).   For those days when we just couldn’t get outdoors,  I established quite a repertoire of activities that all kids enjoyed (and learn from).
My Box O' Fun
These activities were great for those days when we had outside disruptions (assemblies, field trips, etc) but you wanted your kids engaged and learning.  I called them discovery days at school – where the focus was on engineering, experimenting and re-engineering.  I kept a “box o’ fun”  in my classroom that contained treasures like file cards, old film canisters, plastic water bottle lids, masking tape, cardboard cereal boxes, oaktag, marbles, straws, wooden skewers (my husband could never figure out where they went) and any other thing that could be used as building materials.  Ruler, measuring tapes, stop watches, etc. all added to the fun. 
All I had to do was list a limited number of materials, post a challenge on the board and give them a limited amount of time before they would have to test and share their solutions.  Here are some tried and true problems that I used (any materials can be substituted):
Safe Transport
Materials:  file card, 12 inches of masking tape, two wooden skewers, four plastic bottle caps (you can also add things like scissors, stop watches etc)
Challenge:  Build a vehicle that will transport a Lego man (plastic frog, eraser, whatever) safely down a ramp.  We measured distance and speed, averaged runs, changed ramp angles, talked about variables, graphed data, etc.  (Caution, principal may visit to see what the hubbub is about!)  Motivated by bragging rights, lots of learning occurred – and of course you could challenge them to improve on their designs!
Straw Rockets
Materials:  Straws, clay, tape, cardboard
Challenge:  Make a rocket that will travel the farthest distance (or land closest to the garbage can, etc).  Although there are commercial straw rocket launchers, you can make one (or the kids can) easily out of a juice bottle with these directions.
Even simpler straw rockets can be made with bendy straws and launched the old fashioned way with these directions.
Balloon Rockets
Materials:  Balloons, string, tape
Challenge:  Make a rocket that will travel fastest along a string.  Students can hold the string at both ends.  I liked to get a couple of stop watches from the PE people to time the rockets as they go. There are even links and questions found here.
Want students to study payload?  Change the challenge and have them launch the rocket straight up as in this Rocket Transportation activity.
Materials:  one square foot of saran wrap from the cafeteria, 3 feet of thread (home ec room), tape and paper clip weights.  .
Challenge:  Build a parachute that will spend the longest time aloft.We used the stair wells and stop watches for testing
Materials:    one square foot of aluminum foil and pennies or golf balls, container of water for floating
Challenge:  build the boat that will hold the most pennies (or golf balls).
Materials:  Popsicle sticks (rulers, etc) tape, rubber bands and cotton balls.
Challenge:  Build a catapult that will launch a cotton ball the farthest.
Writing S’more
When we learned about robots, I had the students write the “code” for making a s’more –if I could build the s’more from the directions, they could have it.  Of course they had to write every step…you cannot just “pick up a marshmallow”….you fingers have to open and close on it, etc. Great way to introduce students to programming.
Write it, Build it
Materials Vary:  Legos, clay, toothpicks, Lincoln logs
Give students two identical sets of 10 Legos (or whatever) and have students build something out one set.  Have them write building directions for their partner.  Give the partner the directions and other set of identical legos and see how close they get using the directions.   
Stop-Motion Animation:
Looking for a little techno-fun?  Kids love stop-motion videos.  Show them some great examples (from youtube) and ask them to create their own to demonstrate a concept they learned this year.  Stop motion videos.  Here's how to make them with Windows Movie Maker

What's in your bag o' tricks?  Do you have simple challenges to add to the list?

1 comment:

  1. Great list. I had used GIF animations with GIMP. It was easy to explain the image sizes, animation frames, ...

    I enjoyed watching the rocket launcher video.

    Thank you for sharing.