Try this fun challenge from Indiana 4-H’er Arianna to teach kids the concepts of engineering. Using toothpicks and gumballs, students will build a small bridge. First, we do the design phase, where students discuss characteristics of real bridges, and how it helps with common challenges.
- Wooden toothpicks (overestimate, you’ll use a lot of them!)
- Packs of gumballs
- Define “engineering” or, for older kids, confirm their understanding of what “engineering” is.
- Discuss what common problems need to be addressed when building a bridge—start by discussing what a bridge’s function is, and what might impede that function.
- Pull up pictures of real bridges, and discuss what design features they have in common. Then discuss how these features contribute to the bridge’s successful function.
- Have students list the steps they’ll use to make the bridge, or draw the bridge. Push them to be as detailed as possible—when they start building, they’ll be glad they were.
- Start building the bridge out of toothpicks and gumballs.
- Using pre-selected materials, begin running students’ prototype bridges through strength challenges. Each new challenge should be heavier than the last. These challenges will reveal structural flaws in the students’ bridges.
- Send students back to the drawing table, and have them re-work their bridges to fix the flaws. Consider having them start the entire process again—write out what issue they’re facing, then draw/list how they’ll fix it in their new design.
From the 4-H Inspire Kids to Do Activity Guide.