(Activity courtesy of Techbridge). Grade Level: 5-12. Time Required: One class period. Approximately 10 minutes preparation and 35 minutes for the activity. Techbridge activity pdf.
Radioactive Golf Balls
In this activity, students practice working collaboratively on a project that requires both ingenuity and speed. Within 20 minutes, they must figure out how to construct a device that can move a set of “radioactive” golf balls from one paper bag to another without human contact.
- To work in teams to solve a problem
- To work within a very tight deadline
Each group of students will need:
- 2 brown paper lunch bags
- 5 golf balls (placed inside one of the paper bags)
- 4 four-inch pieces of string
- 4 drinking straws
- 2 skewers
- 4 paper clips
- 4 rubber bands
- 5 Post-It notes
- push pins
- 1 pencil
- 1-foot length of scotch tape
To test the devices, you will need:
- a tape measure
- a stopwatch
Preparation: Set up the classroom to provide ample working space for teams of 2-3 students. Each team will have two bags placed on the floor approximately 8 feet apart, with their openings facing the ceiling. To ensure the bags do not move, tape both to the floor.
1. Divide the class into teams of 2-3 and distribute the materials.
2. Explain to students that they should imagine that the golf balls contained in bag #1 are radioactive. The object of the activity is to move all the balls from the one paper bag to the other without touching the balls or tilting the bag.
3. Using only the supplies provided, each group has 20 minutes to construct a device that can transport the balls, while observing the following rules:
- The teams may alter the supplies in any way necessary;
- The golf balls must be moved one at a time;
- No part of a person’s body or clothing may touch the golf balls. The balls must stay at least 3 inches away from any body part–notably the hand.
- If anyone touches a ball or if a ball gets dropped, there is a contamination leak! A member of the team must return the contaminated ball to bag #1;
- This is a speed competition! The team whose device successfully completes the task in the shortest amount of time wins.
4. When the 20 minutes is up, have each group demonstrate its device. The team that moves all their balls in the shortest amount of time wins.
Hold a discussion comparing the differences of each team’s device, including strengths, weaknesses, and creative solutions. What suggestions for improvement can the teams offer one another, as well as themselves? Be sure to point out that there is no single way to get the task done – there are many methods that will work.
Discuss whether having a time limit affected the end product. Working fast can be fun — but is it the best approach, particularly if working with radioactive materials?
If there is time and interest, spend part of another class period allowing students to incorporate the suggested improvements and once again demonstrate their results. Can the group think up ways to refine the task to make it more challenging or intriguing? Are there supplies that would help ease, or even complicate, the task?
Have students consider issue of sensitive and dangerous materials. What kinds of protections and precautions must engineers build into their devices, to ensure everyone’s safety?