The Art of Making Science Fun

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The Art of Making Science Fun In the words of Dean Kamen, a New Hampshire engineer, entrepreneur, and businessman, "Games are fun, and the arts are enriching. But we've got to show that the worlds of science and technology are also worlds of wonder and excitement, richly rewarding and immensely fulfilling. We've got to make the next generation see and feel the challenge of science and the joy and value of mastering its mysteries."1 Enter U.S. FIRST. Started in 1992 by Dean Kamen, U.S. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) pairs high schools and corporations or universities for an intense seven week program to develop, design, build, and debug a remote controlled robot to compete against other teams. Teams of students work hand-in-hand with engineers, teachers, and artisans. They see role models, and engineering, science, and mathematics in action. The competition begins the first weekend in January in Manchester, New Hamsphire, when all the teams gather to receive a task and a standard kit of parts. This year the rules ran close to 90 pages with details about the task, the kit, the tournament, the field, the control system, administration, and technical specifications. Each kit is identical, filled with various items from which to build a robot. Pop Can Regatta While many teams begin their involvement with U.S. FIRST a month or two before the assignment is released, our team started early. The Delco Electronics and Kokomo High School team decided to begin work as soon as the school year began in August. Our first event was called the Pop Can Regatta. During summer vacation, using last year's mailing list, postcards were sent to all the returning students with a simple message, "save your uncrushed pop cans." A couple of weeks later, another was sent asking the question, "what can you do with 2,000 pop cans?" We began getting inquiries. Just before school started, the last postcard was mailed with the message, "First U.S. FIRST meeting on August 31. Join us and bring a friend." The meeting attendance was excellent and included students with a good mix of academic abilities. We ran through the rules of brainstorming then broke into groups of about seven to practice. To encourage divergent thinking, the teams had to come up with answers to questions like how to weigh a whale and how to pull a dragon's tooth. Each team started with a different problem and they rotated until

each team had answered each problem. Next, each team was given the same problem and asked to come up with the best conventional and zaniest answer. After about 10 minutes of brainstorming the teams wrote their best answers on the board. They voted on the most conventional answer and the winner received a gift certificate for a medium pizza with three toppings. The students started to pay attention. After many comments about the authors of the zaniest answers, one was selected. The student was given a 6" long piece of 2x4 wood with PRIZE written on it. Everybody laughed until they found out that there was a gift certifica