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A construction based challenge can be an excellent project for encouraging children to think creatively, to solve problems and to express their own ideas using a range of practical materials. Construction challenges provide a fabulous platform for the development of a range of important study, work and life skills, including;
- Problem solving
- Creative thinking
- Consideration of the legitimacy and relevance of sources of information
- Perseverance, motivation and the ability to overcome disappointment
- Evaluation, editing and revision
- Analytical thinking
- Use of a range of real life tools
Choosing a Construction Challenge for Kids
To choose an appropriate challenge-based activity for children, first consider;
- What sort of challenge will be of most interest and relevance to the child and/or group of children and their interests. Choose something they care about.
- The age and level of physical development (fine and gross motor skills) of the children.
- The social development of children expected to complete challenges in teams.
- The range of materials you have available to work with.
- The time and space available for your project.
Supporting Children’s Challenges
The following list of hints and tips will help your construction challenge run smoothly and maximise the learning potential for the children involved;
- Begin each challenge by talking about the problem and identifying what needs to be resolved.
- Brainstorm a list of challenge solutions. Encourage children to be as creative as possible and explain that no idea is a silly idea.
- Talk about which brainstormed solutions are most achievable given limits on materials, tools and time.
- Don’t show your children examples of finished projects before beginning as this is likely to hinder their creativity and problem solving (the exception would be the Rube Goldberg inspired challenge detailed below).
- Collect your materials and talk through problems and challenges as they build. When children get stuck instead of providing them with an answer ask a series of probing questions to help them to describe what they think is happening and how they might find alternative solutions.
- Help children to accept that false starts and wrong turns are part of the learning process, and that revisions, tests and redesigns are often a necessary part of the process.
- With groups of children, encourage openness and sharing of ideas. Collaboration and sharing often lead children to develop more sophisticated responses when designing and building problems occur.
- Talk about completed inventions – What is the best feature of the invention? What would you improve if you had more time? What was the most difficult part of the invention to build? What would you do differently next time?
5 Construction Challenge Ideas
1. Paper Structures
There are many different types of construction challenges requiring little more than a newspaper and a roll of tape or ball of string…
- What is the tallest tower you can build from 6 sheets of newspaper. Can your tower support the weight of a small beanie toy?
- Can you make a bridge to span a distance of 30 centimetres that will support 8 Matchbox cars?
- Can you build a table from newspaper that will support the weight of 5 books?
- Can you build a structure large enough to sit inside?
Challenge comes by providing children with a distance to span (bridge), height or width to attain (tower/skyscraper), or a weight element (strength of structure). There are lots of different ways that children can manipulate the paper to achieve different results, for example bending, rolling, tearing, scrunching or concertina folding.
- Construct with other materials that would typically be considered weak or unsuitable as construction materials, such as drinking straws, playing cards or pieces of dried spaghetti.
2. Balloon Powered Vehicles
Challenge children to create a moving vehicle powered by nothing more than the air within a blown up balloon. Let them be as creative as they like when it comes to choosing a vehicle that travels across land or water, or through the air.
Base materials will vary according to the type of vehicle the children choose to make but as a minimum I suggest you provide the following to allow children to experiment with the balloon-powered element of the challenge;
- Elastic bands
- Set a minimum distance the vehicle must travel.
- Set a starting point and a target in the room that the vehicle is required to hit.
- Have a competition between teams or individuals to see which completed vehicle can travel the furthest distance.
3. Lego Challenges
As many different pieces of Lego that exist, there are potential Lego challenges!
- Can you build a structure that moves in some way?
- Can you build a tower at least 1 metre tall that will support a tennis ball?
- Can you design and build a useful tool that will help make life easier in some way?
- Limit the number of pieces
- Limit the type of pieces
- Set a minimum or maximum height or breadth for the construction.
4. Improve It! Challenge
An Improve It! challenge requires children to take an everyday object and find ways to make it work better. It could be a matter of making it lighter or smaller, more powerful, multifunctional, more economical or more energy efficient.
While any everyday object (with reason) will work, here are a few suggestions to get you started;
- Money box
- Enamel or plastic coffee cup
Additional materials required to complete this challenge will obviously depend on the object and the modifications necessary but start with construction basics such as the following to enable your children to build their new, improved prototype;
- Small cardboard boxes
- Cardboard tubes
- Thick cardboard
- Plastic bags
5. Rube Goldberg Inspired Challenges
Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor and he is best known for his series of popular cartoons depicting complicated series’ of gadgets arranged in a convoluted sequence to perform a simple task.
Creating a Rube Goldberg inspired machine requires understanding of the workings of simple machines and the application of a range of architectural and engineering based skills, and I think the best way to introduce children to the idea of a Rube Goldberg inspired chain reaction is to show them some of the videos from the annual competitions shared at rubegoldberg.com.
Basically setting a Rube Goldberg inspired challenge requires allocating a simple task that the children are required to achieve with a minimum number of steps (movements or reactions) in a complicated chain of events. Materials will vary according to the task but collections of everyday materials from around the home or classroom make a good starting point.
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About the littleBIGidea Competition – THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED
Origin Energy is sponsoring what I believe to be one of the most exciting and innovative competitions for Australian children, teachers and schools that I have ever seen. Three children will have the opportunity to visit some of the most innovative attractions in the United States – everything from the Epcot center at Walt Disney World Florida to the Kennedy space Center. As well, all twelve finalists will be flown to Sydney for the first ever littleBIGideas forum and win prizes for themselves, their teachers and their schools. Children in grades three to eight are invited to enter their most innovative or original idea for an invention, an energy-saving technology or a simple way to make life easier; it really can be anything at all. You can find out more and enter your littleBIGidea here.