In teaching technology we like to say that it’s OK mess up the first time. This is counter to how we like things to run smoothly – neat transitions, good closures etc. A formula, in other words. Even when doing a demo, you probably want your audience to see the end result.
But I’ve realized that in many lessons – life lessons, not class lessons– the worst thing you could do is to have something perform flawlessly.
Take this ‘Earthquake ‘simulator’ we built here. The plan was to simulate tectonic plate movement that brings down buildings. This was for our STEM Night, which happened on 21st April. A rickety contraption that would shake-rattle-and-roll using a power drill. We quickly ran into a few issues. The wheel you see here was cracking.With two hours to go to the ‘earthquake challenge’ we implemented Plan D – Duct tape. Which looked messy, but it worked. In a sense, I loved that uncertainty; an opportunity to tell students that this ‘problem-solving’ stuff we go on about, is real, even for us.
The next day, FOX 10 News showed up. More issues, with the weather guy and a camera pointing at our ‘machine’.
- Problem #1: The drill that drove the wheel, had been taken home!
- Problem #2: Reporter Cory McClousky wanted to repeat the ‘quake’ and of course, it failed. On camera. Nice!
- Unrelated issue. Behind the earthquake simulator was the solar oven we used the previous day. I had left my coffee cup inside while we were waiting. A solar oven, in case you haven’t heard can reach up to 250 degrees in 30 minutes. So does the plastic cap, as you can see here, which warped out of shape.
You cannot plan these things. What looks bad, actually informs the story. McClusky’s parting line about the solar oven was: “We’re burning coffee cups in here…” Indeed. You can’t touch this.