I thought I would post about our mystery box challenges today. I found the idea here and thought it could be integrated into a makerspace really well.
Basically, I fished around for activities that were fun, a little competitive and had simply, largely visual instructions. I did not want activities where I had to explain how to do the task. My intention for the mystery boxes was to keep interest in the makerspace fresh. I really wanted it to fell like a space where students would want to return because they were thinking “What could happen today?”
The pinball machine option was interesting to communicate- each box had a diagram detailing only a simple flipper, the curve that leads the ball into the main part of the pinball machine and a straw. How to actually put this together was up to the students. One group of students who didn’t look at the sheet tried cutting into their box for 5 minutes to create a flipper out of straws. Many students spent a large amount of time on the flipper. I guided a couple of the really struggling groups to think about levers and strong materials to use.
My outline for mystery boxes here is below (Shhhh, don’t give away the next three!). You might notice that some of the materials seem limited, but that was to help students get creative. They were told on Tuesday, our first challenge day, that they didn’t need to use everything in their box, but could not swap or add items. This was to encourage them to think before they cut into items!
I have found that in the past, passive advertising (student notices) is not always effective. In the lead up to the makerspace (during which time I was actually acting as English head of department and therefore unable to do all of this), my replacement went to assemblies and classes to speak about the makerspace and I went to classes on the other side of the school to speak too. I had designed some posters before I changed positions, and my replacement and one of the library teacher aides printed them off and posted them up all around the school. I’ve been getting to more classes this week to keep the makerspace present in students’ minds. We have had regulars as well as new students daily.
Here are a few (obviously blurred) pics of my students engaging in the pinball challenge. It was very rewarding. At the start of lunch, only 5 students (fewer than 2 teams) had turned up. I was getting a bit worries and did a (literal) shout out to other students in the library to join in. By the start of the challenge we had 8 teams (6 were full teams of 3 and 2 teams only had 2 students). Several other students came by to watch.
Although I didn’t help, I was there to set the judging criteria (most effective lever mechanism/flipper and most obstacles before the ball hits the cup) and I prompted a few students using some enquiry-based and Bloom’s higher order thinking Qs (What could happen if you tried it a different way? Why did you use those materials? What will you do next? What did you observe? Are there any alternatives? Why did it work out like that? etc.).
I was really pleased the students got into this activity. During the judging, I asked students what the most difficult part of the challenge was (the flipper/lever) and what they would do differently next time. I invited students to come back and make one over several lunches instead of 15 minutes to see whether they could improve.
I’ll post again in a few days. See you soon!