Electricity is such a fun unit for grades 3, 4, and 5. The idea for this STEM challenge came to us during our working vacation in the sweet little town of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. We spent some of our brainstorming sessions in a coffee shop named Edison’s Cafe with a large Edison mural on the wall. As we read about the natural disasters, such as the 2019 Guatemalan flash floods and the Californian and Australian bushfires, we thought about how these phenomena wipe out a family’s possessions, including the children’s toys. Dave and I decided then that this could be a wonderful STEM challenge to couple with the electric circuit game.
Edison’s Toy Studio design challenge asks teams to imagine and build a prototype for a toy that the toy shop can distribute to child survivors of natural disasters. Teams began by selecting the demographic for their gift and determine the kind of toy they wished to build. The criteria for this design challenge was that the toy must use electricity to produce either light or motion. Many of the teams opted to do both so this offered an opportunity to explore DC motors and mechanical movement. For this exploration, we used our multi-purpose mechanical prototype platform, the Gizmo Rig.
To make the challenge more like a real-world business problem, we imposed an economic constraint on the teams by making them stay within a budget. The materials available were listed on a price list and each team purchased them with Eddy Bucks. Teams started the project with $100 in Eddy Bucks and purchased materials as they needed them. To help teams stay in budget, they could return unused materials for a full refund or exchange. Tools were free since they weren’t consumable.
The greatest engineering obstacle teams faced in this challenge was not wiring the circuit; however, one team did experience a fire hazard when they incorrectly wired a switch. The challenge turned out to be the construction of the system used to make the toy move. Each team had its own creative solution. After a year with this group, we shouldn’t be surprised by the variety of their solutions, but we always are!
Lights were usually added as a way to decorate rather than being an essential part of the toy. Another discovery Dave and I made was the uniqueness of each project. Each team’s toy was very different. These ingenious toys included a hovercraft, a school bus, and a robot on wheels. The mechanisms for movement were very different, but they were all fun!