Wow! Give kids a challenge (and don’t tell them that it is hard) and watch them create for you! That is the lesson I learned by offer a STEM program using Engino toy parts to build simple machines. Our kids both followed the directions, and free built. Engino toy parts are a cross between Legos and Knex, and they are a little bit harder to work with than either of those toys. Lots of fine motor skills were needed. I ran this program with 5th graders, 2nd graders, and an all ages program. All of the groups were able to build the simple Experimental Car, and then enjoyed some free build time.
This program goes against my $0.30 per child budget. In fact, each Engino Simple Machines Construction Set kit cost us $80 on Amazon and our library purchased four kits There is no way that we could have afforded that purchase, however, our library system applied, and won, a STEM grant. This was before I was STEM programming regularly, and I did not know what to buy. These kits seemed like a good choice. If you have a grant option opening up, these are fun kits to try. The boxes advertise the kits for ages 9+, however, I was able to show them to kids as young as Kindergarten and they were able to follow the directions and build the simple Experimental Car from the Wheels and Axels building booklet without even knowing it was hard!
STEM at Work:
This program is all about simple machines. Simply put, simple machines help us work smarter, not harder. Simple machines are the basic building blocks of all other machines. Simple machines include (along with my examples that I used with the kids): Lever (teeter-totters), Inclined Plane (ramps), Wedge (knife), Screw (bottle cap), Wheel and Axle (trash can on wheels), and Pulley (the small holes you lace your shoelaces through).
I brought four tables into our Storytime/Programming room and set them up in kind of a square with lots of space on all sides for kids to walk around. This helped anchor the room. I put one kit on each table and I had already taken all the pieces out their pre-packaged bags and placed them into Ziploc gallon freezer bags. I also took out all the little booklets and only left the Wheel and Axel booklet that had the plans for the simple car that I wanted the kids to begin with.
I had four kids per kit limit. We had some difficulties with the 5th grade classes of not working well as a team, so I
turned that into a lesson about how to treat one another, and how to show respect for your teammate, even if you think they are doing it wrong. Having five kids on a team, though, I think, would be too much and the chance of one or two kids being left out would probably happen.
I used the book, The Kids’ Book of Simple Machines by Kelly Doudna to help me understand Simple Machines and how they work in our lives.
How it went:
I brought the group into our Programming room, and read the kids pages 6-11 of the book, The kids’ Book of Simple Machines by Kelly Doudna. This book gives very good explanations of simple machines. When I do this program again, I will try to find a book with larger pictures, or just make a poster of the simple machines. The kids had trouble seeing the pages, so this might help that.
I told the kids that for this workshop, they would be able to experiment with the Wheel and Axel to make a simple car and I showed them in the instruction booklet that this was the first project. After making this car, each group was free to either try a new challenge from the book, perfect the car they had made, or free build. No group that tried another challenge from the booklet was able to finish it, but it was good for them to get started!
I told the kids that these were the rules:
- Do not hurt the boxes! These boxes are for other kids that will also build. I would be very sad if the boxes got hurt, so please take care of the boxes!
- All the parts from your box need to stay on your table. Do not borrow or share pieces with your neighbors at other tables. When each group is done building, they will pick up the pieces, put them back into the Ziploc bags, and then the pieces go back into their box. If the pieces get mixed up, I will have a really hard time separating them for when they want to build again.
- Practice good team work! If you think someone on your group is not doing it right, talk to them. Do not shut a group member out, make sure everyone has a job. Work on different parts of the challenge, and assign everyone their part.
- When we are done building, pick up your pieces and place them into the boxes for the next group!
- Have fun!
Each time I did this program, it took about 45 minutes from start to end no matter what age of kids. All the kids were able to follow the visual instructions. Some kids have that engineering mind, and the directions made sense to them right away. Some of the kids did not have that experience, so I went around from table to table and helped keep kids going who were struggling. Every group was able to finish!
Some of the kids really, really got into this. I told each group that if any of the kids wanted to work on this more by themselves to come to the library and ask me, and I would take the kits our of our programming closet just for them so they could work with it by themselves. One 5th grader took me up on it the same day afterschool as when he came by with his class!
This was a fun program! I was worried about it working with our younger patrons, but they did just fine! It was a fun way to bring a very hands-on engineering workshop for our students.
And, here is a picture I shot with our last builder in the room!