STEM programming for the non-scientist, thanks to the MythBusters

by Sonja Somerville, Salem Public Library

I made a magical discovery that saved (one day of) my summer and engaged eager teens in learning fun.

mythbusters building

After my Teen Advisory Board suggested “something like MythBusters” would make a good program to go with the Spark a Reaction Summer Reading Club, I thought I might have to call in reinforcements to get it done. Venturing out online for a few ideas, I quickly discovered that the MythBusters themselves had already come to my rescue.

Right there at my fingertips were 10 fully formed activities with complete instruction, supply lists, and explanations about what makes them legitimately “science-y.” Better yet, they hit on different areas of science and different skill sets and used easy to find, inexpensive materials.

I chose the five that seemed most do-able with a large group and prepared for the 40 middle and high school students that I thought were coming. When 55 showed up, I found myself very grateful that I tend to over-purchase supplies.

Here are some thoughts about the activities I chose that might be helpful to someone planning a similar program:

Spin It – Paper helicopters – Deceptively simple, really cheap, and lots of fun. Kids really got into thinking up creative modifications to improve (or not) their tiny helicopters.

Reflexes –Catching a falling ruler – Too easy, too fast, and not very interesting. Better to find another activity.

Airspeed –Balloons traveling down strings – Blowing up balloons and letting them go is just plain fun – even when their movement is controlled by a string track. I ramped up this one by setting up tracks with several different kinds of string.

Superhero Strength–Endurance test with a rubber band across your fingers – another simple, cheap activity that the participants enjoyed a great deal. Best quote of the night from a kid with crazy long endurance, “Finally, all those hours playing video games are paying off!”

Stable Structures –Building and testing marshmallow and toothpick structures – Hands down, the best activity of the bunch. The participants built some amazing structures. Some kids would have happily spent the rest of the week designing and building.

mythbusters strength