When machines break, and coffee cups burn – just another day in science

In teaching technology we like to say that it’s OK mess up the first time.

This is counter to how we like things to run smoothly. You know: neat transitions, good closures etc. A formula, in other words. Even when doing a demo, you probably want your audience to see the end result.

But I’ve realized that in many lessons – life lessons, and class lessons– the best thing that could happen is for something to fall apart, if not crash.

Earthquake simulatorTake this ‘earthquake machine’ we built from two-by-fours, scrap metal, and some springs. The plan was to simulate tectonic plate movement that brings down buildings. This was for our STEM Night, which happened on Tuesday.

On the day of the event, when a bolt was turned by a power drill, the rickety contraption ran into a few issues. The wheel began to crack. And we had no proper Plan B (a replacement). Plan C was to manually shake the spring-based table. We settled for Plan D – Duct tape! Which looked messy, but worked.

In a sense, I loved that uncertainty. It becomes an opportunity to tell students that this ‘problem-solving’ stuff we go on about, is real –even for us.

Then the next day, last morning), Channel 10 News’ weather guy showed up and I had to demo the cranky machine. More issues.

  • Problem #1: The drill that drove the machine, had been taken home! We scrambled to get one in time.
  • Problem #2: Cory McCloskey wanted to repeat the ‘quake’ and …of course, it failed on camera. Nice.

You cannot plan these things. What looks bad, actually informs the story. McCloskey was here to do the weather report on Earth Day, and connected with the story of how humans might solve earthquake issues. (Actually, this just in the news: earthquakes are caused by humans drilling but not the kind you see above !)

Fox 10 News visits SRES (35)He then spotted the solar oven we had used the day before. I had left my coffee cup inside one of the pans to keep my cup of joe warm while the kids were all gathering for the media truck.

A solar oven can reach up to 250 degrees in 30 minutes. So does the plastic cap, which warped out of shape as you can see in the picture below.

The weatherman’s parting comment: “We’re burning coffee cups in here…”

Indeed. We’re doing messy, fun, science here. Things break. Or bake. You can’t touch this.


Solar baking AfterIMG_0659 STEM Night 2nd Red Camera (12)


2 thoughts on “When machines break, and coffee cups burn – just another day in science

  1. Pingback: Young ‘Makers’ – Starting With Kindergarten! | Voices On!

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