Students love to build things. They also like competition. We used both of these elements when we challenged our students to build a lunar rover. Their rover had to be able to roll down a ramp and then 30 cm without dropping or breaking a plastic easter egg. They were given a variety of different materials to use and then we backed away to see what their imaginations could come up with, leaving them with only one parameter: they cannot tape or otherwise box in the egg in any way.
The end results:
Bonus Challenge: Have your students build self-propelled lunar rovers that move along a level surface on their own.
Many rockets have missions to drop certain items at certain points in their travels. Yet, this is a little bit more complex than just dropping something because the rocket is in motion so there is no direct fall. A great way to demonstrate this to students is to have them build their own ‘rocket’ and have it drop a payload on a target.
The set-up for this engineering challenge is to have student take a length of string 2 meters long and attach one end to a high surface and the other to a low surface before placing a target on the floor below the middle of their string. The base for their rocket is a dixie cup and their payload is a marble. They must find a way to get the rocket to travel down the string, drop the payload on the target, and then keep moving.
See if your students can slow an army man down enough to land gently using a variety of materials. Our students launched their army men from the third story in our math and science building, letting it drop through the main stairwell.
Here are the materials our students had available to them:
These are a classic rocket example. The rocket body is a film canister tube and then the student adds an alka selzter tablet and water and snaps the cap back on, flips it upside down and sets it on the floor. Eventually enough gas builds up that the canister pops off and into the air. It is fun for students to experiment with the amount of alka seltzer and water they place in the canister. Have them try and find the perfect ratio for the maximum amount of height their rocket can get. If your students are feeling creative, have them design exteriors for their rockets out of construction paper. They can add nose cones and fins and see if that helps their rocket fly any higher.
Tube rockets are easy to build and fun to launch and they get more distance than the alka seltzer rockets. These rockets are built out of construction paper and are launched off of a PVC pipe. You can either have students hold the PVC pipe and blow into it or hold it off the ground and attach an empty pop bottle to it that can be quickly smashed to force air through the pipe. With the rockets, you’ll want to be sure that there is no air that can leak out of the nose cone, otherwise the rocket will not fly.