James Dyson Foundation STEM Challenges

We recently learned about STEM challenges from the James Dyson Foundation. This week we took on 6 of these challenges: Building a Cardboard Chair, a Spaghetti Bridge, a Cardboard Boat, a Marble Run, a Balloon Car, and a Periscope. For each challenge, a Challenge Card with the rules and instructions is supplied.

When I told the kids about these challenges and showed them the Challenge Cards, they could not wait to get started. This was a very fun set of projects they handled mostly on their own. They did need a little help, but not much since these projects were great for their ages (we have four kids ages 6 to 13).

STEM Challenge #1 – Cardboard Chair

The Challenge – Construct a chair that you can sit on using only cardboard. No glue, tape or other fixing materials allowed.

This was the challenge I was most nervous about for the kids. A chair made of cardboard that can hold a person’s weight? That sounded very difficult especially since the cardboard we had scavenged from our neighbor’s recycling bin was not of great strength or quality. The restriction on glue and tape made the project seem even more difficult.

Fortunately, the Challenge Card provided a few good clues to get started and they have a great video on this project that provides some different designe examples from Dyson engineers. We decided to go with interlocking sheets to create the main structure.

Cardboard Chair Interlocking Sheets Cardboard Chair

The interlocking sheets were a little crude and did not make a great looking chair, so the kids wrapped the main structure with a sheet of cardboard and built a nice back for the chair. Now it was time to put it to the test.

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about engineering structure. Even a weak flimsy material like cardboard can be made into something very strong good structural design principals. The challenge card and video from Dyson show how different structures such as interlocking sheets, strips of cardboard woven together like thread, tubes, and cones can be used to create very solid structures that can support very heavy weights.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/cardboard-chair/

 

STEM Challenge #2 – Spaghetti Bridge

The Challenge – Construct a free standing bridge out of spaghetti, strong enough to support a 1/2 lb bag of sugar.

The spaghetti challenge was a very fun way to experiment with different bridge designs. The goal was for the bridge to hold a 1/2 load, but the kids wanted to see how far they could take it.

STEM Project Spaghetti Bridge

Spaghetti Bridge

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about different bridge structures and how different structures can absorb loads.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/spaghetti-bridges/

 

STEM Challenge #3 – Cardboard Boat

The Challenge – Construct a boat to support up to 1/2 lb without sinking.

The boat challenge was the first one the kids  latched onto. They were very successful on their first try, but I think they got a little lucky by choosing a very stable shape. They love to create, so we ended up with some beautiful sails that needed to be removed before testing the boat. Style really too right?

Cardboard Boat STEM project

It’s a little scary to test the boat out. If it wasn’t sealed well enough, the cardboard will get wet. If it is not stable enough, one side of the boat will take in water and the boat is doomed. Fortunately, 1/2 pounds of weight was no issue for this boat. In fact, I discovered the boat was still floating with the weight in the tub 2 hours later because we forgot to take it out.

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about water density and water displacement. When a boat is placed in the water, it displaces an amount of water equal to the boat’s weight. They will also learn about the importance of stability and how different shapes affect boat stability.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/cardboard-boat/

 

STEM Challenge #4 – Marble Run

The Challenge – Use a cardboard box and cardboard struts to create a marble run. The marble must run for 60 seconds.

Finally, a good way to use all of those old cereal boxes! Creating and debugging a marble run is really fun. Lots of test runs to figure out where the marble gets stuck or falls off and plenty of tweaking to find ways to slow down the marble. 60 seconds is a long time. Unfortunately, their creation was only able to last about 40 seconds, but I think they learned enough to easily build a 60 second marble run if they take on the challenge again.

Marble Run STEM project<script>

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about the different forces that affect the speed of a marble. They will learn how different slopes affect the gravitational acceleration and how different surfaces play a role in the force of friction.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/marble-run-challenge/

 

STEM Challenge #5 – Balloon Car

The Challenge – Make and race a balloon powered car.

The balloon car is very easy to make, but difficult to make well. The first attempt resulted in several mistakes that kept the car from working – the holes for the straws were too high so the wheels did not make contact with the floor, the space where the balloon expanded pushed the car further off the ground, the wheels were not all able to turn freely on the axles. The 2nd attempt worked much better, but the car did not drive straight. I think the big lesson here was don’t use bendy straws on race cars.

Balloon Car STEM project

You can see in the video below the issues the car had driving in a straight line. At least everyone had a good laugh.<script>

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about Newton’s Third Law. If object A pushes on object B, object B will push back on object A with the same amount of force. Kids will also learn how plenty of trial and error is crucial to the engineering process.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/cardboard-chair/

 

STEM Challenge #6 – Periscope

The Challenge – Design and build your own periscope to see around corners.

This was a fun challenge and the kids knocked this out in about 30 minutes working together. The biggest challenge was finding mirrors to use which we found at our local craft store. Our youngest had lots of fun using the periscope afterwards so it is a great new toy at the house.

Cardboard PeriscopeCardboard Periscope 3Cardboard Periscope 2

What Kids Will Learn from This Project

Kids will learn about how to use light reflection at different angles using mirrors.

Interested in trying this challenge? Download the challenge card and learn more about this project here: http://www.jamesdysonfoundation.com/make-a-periscope/

 

Dyson STEM Projects

 

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