This is a fun project, often done in school science programs for all ages. The ultimate goal is for kids to create a container that they can put a raw egg in and drop it from several feet and not have the egg break.
Proto-typing with a tester egg
Do we start by giving the kids a raw egg? We don’t!
Partially because it would quickly get expensive and messy. Plus, this is a great opportunity to talk about proto-typing and testing a design multiple times with low-cost, low effort materials to make sure you have it right. Here are our three stages of testing:
I’ve discovered that if you put a rubber bouncy ball inside of a plastic Easter egg, it has about the same degree of toughness / fragility as a raw egg. If you drop it from just a few inches, it does fine most of the time (but occasionally breaks even if it’s only from a few inches up). If you drop it from a few feet with no padding, it’s guaranteed to break open. But then it’s easily re-assembled for more tests, with no mess.
If you don’t have a plastic egg, you could try using another plastic container – I had to put a marble in mine to make it a little more fragile than it was with the lighter weight bouncy ball. Or, you could build a structure from Lego – it’s a good engineering process to figure out how to make it sort of sturdy but sort of fragile.
They start each level of testing very cautiously… drop from a few inches up, then a couple feet, then more feet… in the end, you might be dropping off a balcony or throwing against a wall. (Or adult teams have been known to drop from a 6th story window…)
Once they’ve successfully dropped the tester egg several times, they can graduate up to a hard boiled egg – if their padding fails, the eggshell will be cracked and the egg can’t be re-used for more tests, but at least it doesn’t make a big mess of their container.
The final challenge: the Raw Egg
Once they’ve had several successful test drops with a hard-boiled egg, they can get a raw egg. You might start from a high height for maximum drama. Or, they can test from lower levels first, then take it higher and higher… The ending is pretty much always a container full of squashed egg goo.
Clean-Up is easier if you put the raw egg inside a plastic baggy before padding the egg. But this may not be allowed in some “competitions.”
Developing a protective container
Packing materials for 3 – 6 year olds
You can use a very wide variety of materials to make your container and padding. In our class, for 3 – 6 year olds, we put out tester eggs, quart size or gallon size Ziplocs and a variety of packing materials – Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, cloth, tissue paper, shredded paper, plastic Easter grass, polyester batting, a pump to fill a bag of air, and so on. The kids would pack the bag with soft materials, nest the egg inside them, then drop the egg, then check it – is it still intact? If not, they put it back together (that’s why we’re using tester eggs!), re-engineer their container and try again. If it is still intact, they can re-seal it and drop it from a greater height.
Packaging options for older folks
The egg drop challenge is even fun for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or adults. But the supplies list above is limiting – generally it’s just “fill a bag with soft stuff and put the egg in the middle.” For older kids, you want to offer a lot more options of materials: anything from plastic straws to balloons to cardboard, egg cartons, etc.
If you want LOTS more ideas for this, just do a google search or YouTube search for “egg drop challenge.” I like this video, by a former NASA engineer http://gizmodo.com/how-to-win-your-physics-class-egg-drop-competition-1707125282. He talks about these major design ideas, and explains the science of them:
- “Popcorn ball” – really, any container filled with any type of soft packing materials – egg nestled in the middle.
- Parachute. Tie on a plastic grocery bag or other item to slow the fall. This isn’t going to do much good when testing from a few feet up, but may work well at a height.
- A crash cage from straws, cardboard, or other materials.
- Martian airbags (balloons surrounding the egg).
- Helium balloons to float the egg slowly to the ground. (Note: some egg drop competitions don’t allow helium balloons, so be sure to check your rules!)
What have you tried? Was it successful?
For our younger kids, we ask them to make a verbal prediction about whether they think their egg will survive. For our 5 – 6 year olds, we used a worksheet to encourage them to make a prediction about what would happen, and track what they’ve tested. (here’s a simpler worksheet: www.iheartcraftythings.com/2012/08/humpty-dumpty-science.html)
This is a GREAT activity for teaching the Tinkering mindset and the Engineering process. Come up with an idea. Build it. Test it. Refine it to make it better. Once you have a success, challenge yourself to take it to the next level.
This activity scales to a lot of different age groups. The preschool kids – three and four year olds – enjoy doing it for a few minutes. They’ll do tester eggs and a few engineering revisions… maybe three or four tests, then they move on.
Older kids (early elementary) will try more iterations, and want to earn the right to graduate up to a hard-boiled egg. A really committed kid could spend hours on this project, testing lots of different container options.
You can find lots more “egg science activities” here.