In 2016, the Kool Kat writing team attended the wonderful 5th annual STEM Forum & Expo in Colorado hosted by the National Science Teachers Association. We use the STEM Forum to learn from other educators and gather fresh ideas for our writing. We pored over the offerings and were intrigued by a session on puppet making. Dave attended this workshop for our team but was disappointed to discover that this “STEM” activity was limited to crafting a puppet using a paper bag, craft sticks, and straws. We took that germ of an idea and built the newest Kool Kat Science STEM unit: Explore Simple Machines with Mechanical Puppets.
We began writing the unit last year and discovered there was much we didn’t know about building mechanical puppets! To tackle the mechanical problems, we challenged our amazing Tuesday night STEM Club to help us find design solutions. We brainstormed with the teams and came up with many ideas. Some of the problems we faced were:
- The body of the puppet needed to be easy for students to handle using materials that were readily obtainable by teachers. The problem is that paper towel tubes and other common materials weren’t strong enough to hold the puppet’s heavy head.
- The upper jaw needed to be stationary so the head could be anchored on the jaw. In addition, we needed to plan some ways for it to be stable on the body tube.
- We didn’t want the puppet to have a simple hand-operated mouth but wanted to use a lever to make it open and close. Granted – a brilliant idea, but we quickly discovered that there were many ways to build the mouth, but not all of them worked.
- We envisioned employing a variation on the wheel and axle simple machine for moving eyes. Attaching and controlling the eyes was a serious challenge. Teams wanted full eyeball mobility, but we decided to start simple with merely an up and down movement. It was both frustrating and rewarding as we worked through this challenge.
In the end, our fledgling engineers came up with some solutions and their adult teammates provided others in response to these real-world design challenges. It was surprising that no two puppet design teams solved their puppet problems in the same way! We were certain that if we provided one way to solve a problem, most of the teams would follow suit but this did not happen. Our recommendations were only a launchpad for many creative and innovative solutions! This is why . . . we love STEM!! In future posts, I’ll be sharing details about the challenges and insights we gathered throughout the process.
Bring your simple machine lessons to life with the newest Kool Kat Science STEM unit: Explore Simple Machines with Mechanical Puppets