Design and building challenges are a great way to get kid’s engineering brains working. Creatively solving problems without a lot of instruction is a great skill to learn. It’s amazing to see the ideas they can come up with when given the opportunity to be creative and think of their own solutions to problems.
This summer I challenged our kids to each design a raft that could transport 4 LEGO mini-figures across some water. To make things more difficult I gave them only some craft sticks, toilet paper rolls and some paper to use to complete the challenge. It was really interesting to see the different design ideas they had.
One design was a traditional flat raft with a sail. Craft sticks were used as the base and a sail was made with a piece of toilet paper roll. The toilet paper roll was used because the paper was too flimsy on its own to be useful as a sail.
The other raft was a pontoon design. The idea was to use the toilet paper rolls as pontoons. Some quick testing in the sink revealed that the rolls got water logged almost immediately so they wouldn’t work as pontoons. The next idea was to add craft sticks to the bottom of the toilet paper rolls to try to keep them dry. I really enjoyed watching the creative problem solving and experimentation going on here.
But do they float?
Ultimately both of the rafts had some problems. The flat design was front heavy and would easily sink if the water wasn’t completely still. The craft sticks on the bottom of the cardboard pontoons helped. Ultimately it still got water logged and sank.
While this may seem like a failed experiment I would call it a success. Experimentation isn’t about finding immediate success. Learning about trial and error and being willing to experiment with things is an important part of science. While their boats may not have floated very well it was awesome to see them trying different things and testing to see what worked and what didn’t.