It seems like everything at the library in the summer is just bigger. There are more people in the library, the reading program and its prizes turn kids’ excitement up to eleven, and program attendance goes through the roof. With all of those factors conspiring to making the library a bigger, better place to spend hot summer days, I knew my first school-age STEM program of the summer would need to be a great one. Enter Egg Drop Science, which was an engineering hit complete with a surprise reveal for the testing portion of the program. Here’s what we did.
First, we talked about the science. Our challenge for the program was to create an apparatus in which a raw egg might survive a fall, so we talked about forces that might act on the egg as it plummets toward the ground. Gravity draws the egg and apparatus downward, inertia causes the egg to want to keep moving even after the apparatus has stopped, and the apparatus creates resistance for the egg as the egg continues to try to move downward. We talked about these forces with some images projected on our program room’s television; that format also made it easy to share some basic rules for the program, like not using any glass (in case anyone brought materials from home) and sharing the available building materials. All of my slides are available here.
Next came the hands-on STEM work. With some basic instructions and tips for thinking about building safety apparatuses for their eggs, the kiddos went to work building all manner of creations. I had oodles of supplies available, most of them recyclables from a local “leftovers” craft supply store and including some materials we’d had around our craft cabinet. Almost all of the children opted for plastic things to be the frame of their creations: tennis ball canisters, yogurt containers, frosting cans, etc. We also had an assortment of softer things that might cushion a fall: old shoulder pads, foam padding, bubble wrap, and shredded paper were the most frequently chosen. I also made available some wild card materials, like trash bags, yarn, popsicle sticks, and straws.
We spent a solid 45 minutes building the apparatuses, which provided plenty of time for me to walk around the tables asking questions about kids’ designs–there’s a lot of intentionality to what they do, and it’s beneficial to allow them to verbalize it. It worked very well to have the children, most of whom were working in pairs, spend a significant amount of time building; almost everyone, after building their initial idea, opted to add new elements to their designs in the last ten minutes or so. Without that time to observe, think, and be creative, I don’t think nearly as many apparatuses would have ended up with parachutes, for instance. The children needed to play around with their ideas and materials for a while before that level of design consideration came to them.
We ended by putting the egg drop apparatuses to the test with raw eggs. And here’s where the surprise came in: we all walked outside together to a blocked-off far corner of our parking lot, where two men from a local internet provider had parked their bucket truck. I hadn’t advertised the full test distance for the egg drop, and the kids were beyond thrilled when they learned that their creations would be put to the test with a 30-foot drop.
Before we had headed outside, a volunteer and I had numbered each of the contraptions and noted the name/s of its creator/s. That allowed for us to proceed with the drops in a pretty orderly fashion. A volunteer used sidewalk chalk to designate the “safe viewing” zone for all the observers, and I passed our 15 apparatuses to the man in the bucket of the bucket truck. When he had taken them to their 30-foot drop height, he called down the number of the creation. I announced the name/s of the builder/s, and then we counted down to the drop. We did the same with each of the 15 contraptions.
Let me assure you that seeing anything drop from 30 feet is pretty exciting for a kid (and for most of the adults present, too); seeing your own creation drop, with the potential bonus of egg splattering everywhere, is absolutely thrilling. Amazingly, the eggs only broke on four of the 15 drops. These kids made some really great egg safety devices! The creators of the no-breakage apparatuses were excited by their success; and the creators of the less successful ones were excited by the spectacular splattering of their eggs. Everyone “won,” and everyone had a great time. (The internet company guys even said they had a lot of fun, and they offered to come back whenever we might need them.)
Everyone left with a smile while chattering about ideas of what to try next time. Because our drop took place outside, most families left straight from the drop zone. That means that most of the books I had set out about gravity, engineering, and building experiments didn’t get checked out, as we didn’t finish up in the program room. Despite the lower circulation of items in this STEM program as opposed to my others, I think the sheer energy and idea-generating of the program make it a huge success. Kids were talking about the program, their designs, and their plans for modification for days after the program. If one goal of programming is to help kids develop their own interests, and if a second goal is to promote the library as a place where fun, exciting things happen, I’d say we were successful on both accounts.
If you have any space at all available to drop contraptions, be it outside your library or in the library (hello, second floor overlooking a main entryway!), I highly recommend you steal this program.