The Amazing Rubberband Car: a STEAMmaker Challenge

STEAMmaker Camp is more than just a makerspace. As I promised in the previous post, I’m going to get transparent with the additional challenges we used at STEAMmaker to get the kids moving & shaking. And of course, there were lessons learned in each.

I love a makerspace. I love how people can enter the space, think, design, build, revise, and tinker-out as much as they want to. And I think some kids are ready to do that from the start. But I think some of our kids come to us with some “institutional damage,” meaning that they don’t know how to self-start. Or they don’t know how to do that intelligently and with intention. And it’s the same with STEAMmaker, only here, they also came in teams from different schools. These teams may not even have ever worked together before this camp because even being from the same school, all the teams were multi-aged.

Knowing this ahead of time, I decided that I would create challenges that would not only allow them to do some team-building within their own school-based teams, but also try to get them to mix up between schools.

Additionally, I designed the challenges to allow the coordinators (Carianne, Tammy, and me) to see who the teams were as learners, how their sponsoring teachers interacted with the kids, and how they managed their time, materials, and space. We learned a LOT each time.

I highly recommend these challenges for anyone who wants to create an environment where students have to take charge of managing their time, task, and problem-solving.

Challenge 1: The Amazing Rubberband Car Challenge

With no introduction other than they were going to start a challenge, campers were shown this 35-second video:


I put the video on loop so they could watch it at any moment. And we let the loop run on the wall for the entire duration of the challenge.

There were no instructions about how to build the car. But because they were new to this environment, I asked them to, in their teams, brainstorm ways that this car worked. We encouraged them to draw pictures. What were they seeing? What was happening? How might this car move forward and backward? Some kids, at this stage, grabbed devices and Googled “rubberband cars.” I let them. It was a smart move on their part.

STEAMmaker Camp, Ginger Lewman, ESSDACK

Students were encouraged to preview the supplies as they were planning and designing. The challenge video was playing on a continuous loop on the wall behind them.

Part way though that process, I dumped a box of supplies on the table. I let them look at and touch the supplies, but they couldn’t take the supplies yet. It was to help them begin to brainstorm their ideas, given the supplies they had. The supplies were things like:

  • various sizes of rubberbands (about 4)
  • various sizes of boxes
  • various sizes of balsa wood
  • weights for pine derby cars
  • a sheet of foamcore
  • measuring square
  • 2 sizes of bamboo skewers
  • 1/4″ dowel rods
  • various tools like saws, hot glue, pencils, box cutters, etc.

After a few minutes (30-ish), I let them begin to build. Because there were enough identical supplies to let all kids build the same car and they were planning their own designs, the cars ended up radically different.  One team split into two during the design process and ended up building two cars.

Then, after about 1.5 hours, we called time and had them present their plans and cars as a panel of adult coordinators (not the teachers), shared what we liked about their cars, process, and presentation; what we wondered about their cars, process, and presentation; and gave them a 1-5 rubric score based on the cars’ aesthetics/design, functionality, and the demonstrated teamwork of the group. We also asked them if they were allowed to go back and re-work their cars, what would they change about not only the car, but also their working process.

Only one team’s car actually worked and, admittedly, it wasn’t great. The team just also happened to be the youngest team with about half being rising 5th graders (they’d just finished 4th grade).

But it didn’t mater that the cars didn’t work. We were demonstrating and learning (and internalizing) that failure is a part of growth is you let it be. That failure isn’t the end of learning.

One team was full of independent geniuses (and as a gifted teacher, I’m not using that term lightly–they each were brilliant but were TERRIBLE at working, let alone working together).

And like the cars not working, it didn’t matter that the team didn’t work well together. This camp was about growing. They now had the opportunity to get better. And during the presentation, they got to see the result of their lack of teamwork as compared to teams who did work well together. That transparency of feedback leads to authentic learning, if we let it. Making our feedback private doesn’t allow for those lessons to become obvious. We nodded, noted what needed to change and we moved forward.

For me, the challenge was not about making a car. I could not care less about the car. I wanted to see the kids working to know who I had in the room for the next 4.5 days. I wanted them to experience a true struggle and see how they faced it. To see what they did when they faced failure. To see what they did when they got an honest critique of their work.

For the kids, the challenge was about making a car; it was supposed to be. They were hooked in. They were invested. They were trying to impress and win. And they all did. They had fun. They were frustrated. They persevered. They won. And while they were busy with building a car, we were able to “Trojan-Horse” in a lot of extra learning.

I wanted to drop a challenge on them right away — they were at camp for only 15 minutes before they got their first challenge. Then we spent a good 30-45 minutes reflecting on what we experienced. What we will be experiencing in the camp. How it relates directly to real life.

You see, the real lessons came after the challenge so we could all have a common experience on which to “hang our hats” for a common understanding.  And then we moved forward, starting from a common base, into our makerspace.


Challenge #2: The Torsion Drum Challenge will be in the next post.

If you’re interested in learning how to do these challenges with laser-targeted precision and purpose for your STEM/STEAM classrooms and schools, let me know. I’d love to help.

If you’re interested in setting up your own STEAMmaker Camp or lab, I can also help there.

Shoot me an email!

IMG_1522 IMG_1528 IMG_1537 IMG_1541 IMG_1544 IMG_1548 IMG_1553






Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Written by GingerLewman

  1. […] know that in my last post, I said the torsion drum challenge would be my next post, but I don’t want to write about […]

  2. […] The Amazing Rubberband Car: a STEAMmaker Challenge […]

Copyright © 2016