Over the course of six weeks at the Barrington Public Library, 4-H Program Manager Kristen Landau and volunteer Kayley Cedrone supported a group of ten middle school students, ranging from fifth to eighth grade in their engineering challenge: to build a mousetrap powered car. This was a special interest project (SPIN) involving hands on learning and critical thinking facilitated by 4-H and sponsored by the library. The group of students paired up into five groups of two and began to brainstorm where to start with building the base of their cars, which seems simple, but is anything but when there is no blueprint and no "right" design. They were first introduced to the engineering design process: initiate, ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve. Next, the students were given limited materials to begin building such as two pieces of cardboard, four CD’s, four faucet washers, two dowels, two straws, zip ties, tape, and hot glue.
Kristen and Kayley gave limited directions on where to begin with the building process, allowing the students to think outside their comfort zone and get creative. At each weekly meeting, they would stop the students to facilitate a discussion on what was working with their engineering process and what was not working. This allowed the students to reflect on what they had created successfully and where they needed to improve their design. Slowly, their cars were coming together piece by piece each week and the students became eager to jump right into working on their cars. They were becoming tinker masters.
Once the students had a successful and sturdy base for their car, Kristen and Kayley finally gave them the mousetrap, dowel, and string to attach onto the car. The mousetrap was used to act as an engine to fully power the car in a forward motion. This step of the process put the student's cars to the ultimate test. Some of them realized that they needed to go back and improve the base of their car in order for the mouse trap to power the car successfully, while others had to spend time correctly attaching the mousetrap to the car. When everyone had finished their cars the students were allowed to race against each other in hopes to have their car go the longest distance and win a prize.
Overall, this SPIN created a collaborative and enthusiastic environment for the students to engage in a new challenge. The program noticeably helped students with the confidence of their ideas and familiarity with the engineering design process. At the end of the program, students were able to see what worked well with their cars and what they could of done differently to make it go further and faster.
Strafford County 4-H will he hosting a Mousetrap Powered Car Distance Challenge on April 7, 2018 at the Barrington Middle School. Please follow us on social media at https://www.facebook.com/StraffordCounty4H to get upcoming details. Contact Kristen.Landau@unh.edu if your child wants to take part in our Distance Challenge!
Co-authored with Kayley Cedrone, UNH Business Undergrad