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.

http://www.mythbusterstheexhibition.com/educators/

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