Last week I facilitated a day-long activity at the Omaha Children’s Museum’s Maker-Space in which kids got to figure out how to build their own catapults using sticks, tape and rubber bands! I provided a picture of a basic model to work from, as well as two examples that I built for them to study, then asked them to make their own with any improvements or modifications they think it should have. Nearly every kid made a unique catapult, and they all got them to work with little to no intervention from me!
Unlike many activities in the past we have done, this activity emphasized self-directed learning through critical thinking and inquiry rather than a strict step-by-step instructional method. This approach had two major benefits that I could see: (1) no kid is forced to execute the exact same project as the person next to them and (2) the staff member facilitating the activity could spend less time engrossed in doing the same lesson one-on-one all day and spend more time working with individuals who need help the most, and helping them solve their problems and work through frustration.
Although we only served about 20-30 guests (with a few disruptive field trips throughout the day), we saw a great diversity in the designs the guests executed, as well as the comfort level that everyone seemed to have with the self-directed aspect of the activity. Especially interesting to me was how parents/caregivers were along with their kids. Since they weren’t given instructions on how they were “supposed” to build the catapult, both the parents and the kids seemed to start at a relatively equal starting point. This resulted in entire families working together to solve problems and build successful catapults.
One mom in particular did a fantastic job of working with her young son to make a nice and reliable catapult. Often times the parent will take over the project and not involve their kids very much, thinking that the process is not really important, and the kid really just wants the fun bit at the end. Instead, this mother patiently guided her son through what she was doing and found good opportunities to get him involved in the process. When it was all done, I feel like they both enjoyed what they built together and had a great time trying to score points around the room!