Ah, yes! The Great Pom-Pom Challenge!
But, did it start out to be a pompom? Well, no. The test class used marshmallows. The tiny ones.
And, yes, in case you were wondering, the tiny marshmallows are just as sticky as the big ones.
So, something had to save the day, right?
To Be Honest…
Marshmallows are a great building tool. We use them for several challenges. So, I knew that I could expect some goo-i-ness. Here’s the thing, though, about using a marshmallow as the object to be propelled from a catapulting device. You have to hold them in the device. The more you hold them they softer they get. The softer, the mushier, the gooier.
After the test class, I threw open the doors of my cabinets in search of something else to use in our devices as the projectile.
And, there, I spied a bin of pom-poms! The day was saved.
Now, let me tell you all about this challenge and I will add some tips along the way.
Students are using some wacky items to build a device that will throw a pom-pom through the sir. It may, or may not, hit a target.
Kids find all sorts of ways to make this device. Take a look at the above photos.
- Top left-The cup on the top has a craft stick threaded into it. The pom-pom is hit with that craft stick (think hockey stick) and it fires out of the cup. It did not travel very far.
- Bottom left – The idea with this one was to pull back on the rubber band with the pom-pom pinched between the bands and fire. The pom-pom is supposed to go through that triangle and keep going. You are going to be so surprised to hear that this actually worked quite well.
- Larger picture- This is one that resembles a catapult. The team built a little box from scrap paper for their pom-pom to lay in.
TIP: You are going to need some rules about how these devices can be made. I will list my rules in this post!
We do use rubber bands for STEM Challenges and I always caution students about these. They will pop when you least expect it and can hurt your fingers or go sailing through the air.
Above, you can see a team putting together their system. They have a rubber band strung from cup to cup. The idea is to pinch the pom-pom between that center part of the bands, pull back, and let it fly. This worked well.
TIP: Keep extra rubber bands on hand to replace the ones that pop. I usually only give teams two at the start of the challenge. If you give them more they will play with them. #justsayin’
In the set of photos below, you can see why I had to have rules. On the left is a slingshot. We do not build slingshots.
Here is why:
- In the photo above the rubber band is not attached to the slingshot. When the student pulls back and lets go, the rubber band flies, too. This is way too dangerous for me.
- Pulling back on the rubber band and letting go also has a tendency to hit the fingers that are holding the device. That also hurts.
- The object being thrown from a slingshot also tends to travel with more velocity than the other devices. I know it is just a pom-pom and will not hurt you, but I feel better if I have rules.
TIP: Here are my rules!
- No slingshots. Your catapulting device must rest on the tabletop or floor. It cannot be handheld.
- Never aim at a person.
- Always look before you fire.
- When the pom-pom is released, the parts of the device must stay together. If anything flies off, fix it!
- Keep up with your pom-poms.
Just be prepared for it. You will have some teams that try something a little different.
Above, the team has a device that makes the pom-pom fly by having a student blow it. Start at the top left photo. The straw coming in from the side goes through the bottom cup and then into the second cup. Look at the top right photo. The flexible part of the straw is bent and the end comes right into the center of the cup. The red pom-pom is covering it. Now, the student blows the straw and the pom-pom lifts off. Did it work? Well, the pom-pom did move. It went up about an inch, but if we are having competitions this is not going to work well. My question to the team was this, “What if someone else wants to blow on the straw?” They had not thought of that. Needless to say, they redesigned.
Skirting the Rules
Always, always, always. There will be a team that finds a way around the rules. If you cannot make a slingshot device and hold it in your hands, let’s just make one that is attached to the table.
The problem with this type of device is the same whether you hold it or tape it to the table. The rubber bands will snag the pom-pom and keep it from flying or it will fall out when you let go. Most of the time this type of device is redesigned.
TIP: Since I know this is going to happen, do I tell the students? I do not. Failure is their best teacher. I let them try and when it doesn’t work I will ask questions and help them understand what they have learned. Trust me, these are the lessons they remember.
We always have some fun events.
- Hit a target – I have tried making a paper target and taping it to a table. We also just use a floor tile and the team that lands closest to it is the winner.
- The longest flight- every team fires and the winner is the pom-pom that goes the farthest.
- Knocking down a stack of cups – We have tried this with large pom-poms but they do not usually knock down anything. I have another catapulting challenge that uses candy pumpkins and we aim at stacks of cups. The materials for that device are sturdier than this challenge!
TIP: I have completed this challenge giving every team the same color of pom-pom. But, here is something that works great. Give every team a different color. It is a lot easier for teams to keep track of their own pom-poms when they know which color to look for!