Presenting FreeFall: A Hands-on, At-home Design Challenge

Hello all! I wanted to share a very successful activity we did on Saturday for our last meeting of the fall semester. We wanted to end the semester with something fun, hands-on, and outside our fall 2020 routine, and we didn’t want to have to buy or distribute any materials for it (we’re still 100% virtual). So our mechanical captain and I came up with FreeFall!

In this challenge, students must build a device that earns points for 1) staying in the air a long time, and 2) landing on a target 5ft away. We told them in advance that they would need paper, paper clips, and tape for the mystery activity, and on the day of we told them they would also be allowed to use other raw materials in their houses (basically anything that’s not a pre-made solution). Some students chose to use string, cardboard, rubber bands, etc; others built successful devices using just the “recommended” materials, so I think it successfully balanced sparking creativity with being accessible to everyone without sending any materials home.

We put them in groups of 4 and declared a winning group at the end, but you could also have everyone compete individually. We spent just over an hour and a half on it (5 min to explain, 10 min to brainstorm in small groups, 30 min to build & test individually, 5 min to regroup & give each other more ideas, 30 min to build & test some more, and about 20 min for judging). That seemed to be a good amount of time, but I think the activity could grow or shrink to fill the amount of time given. For virtual judging, we had each student turn on their camera to show us & explain to us their device, and then tell us when to start & stop the stopwatch while they threw it & report whether they hit the target. I think our point balance was good - looking back at the scoresheet, I can see clear winning strategies, but most students didn’t catch on to them during the activity. We saw a huge diversity in strategies and designs, and most students described trying many different designs and iterations.

If anyone else is looking for a fun, one-off activity for a virtual meeting, you’re more than welcome to give FreeFall a try, or adapt it to suit your team!

FreeFall Challenge Game Manual .pdf (155.3 KB)

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