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Edible Destruction

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Participants use snack foods in an engineering design  challenge to create simple structures (6” or taller) and test – and refine – the structure’s ability to withstand “earthquakes.”

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A take-home that can be sent with patrons that wish to do STEM activities at home. These at-home activities cover similar topic areas as the associated activity and could be handed out at the conclusion of a program or left on a circulation desk for patrons to take home.

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  • Rating 
  • Participants Enjoyed the Activity 
    Participants Learned from This Activity 
    Activity Instructions Were Clear and Easy to Follow 
    Would Recommend 

Related Programming Resources

Related Links Interactive website about the magnitude 7.1 earthquake in Mexico on September 19, 2017.
Most Recent Earthquakes Map
Tectonic Forces - Space Place in a Snap!
NASA Scientific Visualization Studio: Cumulative Earthquake Activity 1980-1995 with Tectonic Plates
Originating Source STAR Net
Related Books
[Suggest a book]
Earthquake!: The 1906 San Francisco Nightmare by Lynn Brunelle
A Project Guide to Earthquakes by Claire O'Neal
What Protects Us During Natural Disasters? by Lisa Owings
Can We Protect People From Natural Disasters? by Catherine Chambers
Earthquake Games by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori
Hurricanes by Gail Gibbons
Avalanche and Landslie Alert! by Vanessa Walker
Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers
Engineered!: Engineering Design at Work
Engineer Academy, by Steve Martin and Nastia Sleptsova
Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv


Participants Enjoyed the Activity 
Participants Learned from This Activity 
Activity Instructions Were Clear and Easy to Follow 
Would Recommend 

Good Activity to Teach Engineering Design Process

I used this activity with kids in grades K through 6 and it worked surprisingly well for such a large age range. The parents were on hand to help.

I built the shake table ahead of time and it worked great. The paint stirrer we had duct taped to the cardboard fell off once or twice, but we were shaking pretty hard! We also used the accelerometer app from Physics Toolbox, which was available for free in the App Store.

For building materials, I purchased graham crackers, canned icing, mini marshmallows, and pretzel sticks. I was trying to keep the cost per participant as low as possible and I wanted to have enough materials so kids could try more than one design. Also, I think the limited amount of material choices kept them more focused on design and less on the food. The canned icing we used wasn’t very good for glue; the kids had better luck building structures with marshmallows and pretzel sticks.

At this event, we also did the Surviving Storm Surge Activity. The event lasted an hour and we had time to do both activities. We watched the “Earthquake Engineering” video listed in the materials for Surviving Storm Surge, which was applicable to both activities.

The kids were very excited to do this activity. I had baby wipes and hand sanitizer in the room and tried to encourage food safety since the kids seemed determined to eat their projects. Parents were there to help, and it was a parent who got the first kid started on his design. Once the first child tested their structure, there were many suggestions from the kids on things to try to improve the design. Using the accelerometer app gave us a visual guide on how hard we were shaking the shake table, so it seemed the shakes were somewhat consistent from person to person. Most kids created two structures, or revised their first structure if the parts weren’t completely destroyed. This activity was not as messy as I thought it would be. We put the shake table on a large table and the mess stayed on the table and not on the floor.

Overall, this was a really fun activity and I think it did a great job showing the engineering design process. Plus, the kids liked eating their destroyed buildings!

Participants Enjoyed the Activity 
Participants Learned from This Activity 
Activity Instructions Were Clear and Easy to Follow 
Would Recommend 

Mostly Edible, Mostly Destroyed : Total Success

Do you have kiddos who enjoy eating? How about rampant destruction? I’m guessing that the vast majority of you do; when we carried out this activity in Makerspace, we certainly had equal parts fun in building and destroying our projects … with our mouths as often as not!

This program is well-suited to a variety of situations, and it is easy to scale up or down depending on how many participants you’re likely to have. The activity sheets include plenty of further research and resources to tap into if kiddos fall in love with “delicious seismology,” as well as recommendations for jazzing it up with apps and equipment if you have some older children participating.

Some further thoughts:

- As with some of the other activities on STAR_net, it’s well worth providing visual aids! Explain the “key concepts” as laid out in the activity sheets can be difficult without several successful examples already put together or some pictures for reference, and it’s difficult to glue pretzel sticks together with icing when you’re under pressure. Kids can be a tough audience!

- The list of “building materials” you provide can and should be informed by the needs of your own specific community. We had some children with gluten, dairy, and nut allergies/intolerances, as well as some parents who were not keen on their children overdosing on red food coloring or processed sugar. Our final list of ingredients included: graham crackers (there are gluten-free available at many health food stores), pretzel sticks (ditto), marshmallows (not much good news there), fruit roll-ups (again, look to the health food store for better options), icing (unflavored so as to be less palatable), Kit Kat bars (which remained unused, funnily enough), cubed sharp cheese, sliced and cubed apples and other fruit, and celery sticks. The only real ingredient which posed a challenge was the icing; it just doesn’t have a great consistency for glue. Peanut butter or liquid cheese would have made for better glues, but the allergy situation prevented us from taking that route. We also had to measure out the pretzel sticks, marshmallows, and graham crackers as these were in high demand.

- Make sure to put a tarp down! Whether you choose to build a shake table, as described in the activity sheets, or simply drop your structures from ever-increasing heights, you’ll need a big and easy-to-clean space to do the shaking and/or dropping. Shaking simulates earthquakes more perfectly, but our kids ended up being eager for total annihilation and proceeded quickly to the dropping stage.

- Once the kids have sugar in their mouths, it’s really difficult to get them back to the point of processing advanced engineering principles, methods, and consequences. It’s best to narrate these while the kids are building, or even (in an ideal world) ahead of time, in a brief introduction.

- Testing and retesting is a grand plan in theory, but only if the kids aren’t eating *every single* iteration. We highly recommend either (a) telling kids to repurpose the materials from their early structures or (b) requesting that they only eat the final iterations. Otherwise … sugar overload! We definitely had a lot of kids running laps in the meeting room toward the end of the activity.

The activity sheets for this bridge-building activity seem to be geared towards classrooms. This is a great activity for younger kids as well, though—we had almost-three-year-olds to twelve-year-olds participating—so be aware you may need to tweak the design a bit in order to fit your kids.

Librarians: The materials provided offer some great leverage in appealing to school teachers for partnership opportunities. (Think: “Look at how this meets all of your science standards for the semester! Would you like me to bring this activity to your classroom and maybe introduce them to our library makerspace while we’re at it?”) The science standards materials at the end of the activity sheets may actually prove incredibly useful for broadening your library’s reach, although less so on the day of the activity itself.

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Edible Destruction

Edible Destruction

Participants use snack foods in an engineering design  challenge to create simple structures (6” or taller) and test – and refine – the structure’s ability to withstand “earthquakes.”