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Clever Contraptions (Awesome Summer Science Experiments)

Check in each week at Science Buddies this summer for our Awesome Summer Science Experiments series! Each week, we'll highlight a few activities for awesome science and engineering kids can do at home. We've got a whole summer of fun STEM themes lined up for kids of all ages — for free. This week: awesome summer science experiments for crazy, clever contraptions kids can build and put to use.

Crazy straw to represent Clever Contraptions Week 6 of Awesome Summer Science Experiments with Science Buddies

Awesome Clever Contraptions

The activities in Week 6 of our Awesome Summer Science Experiments series feature innovative science and engineering activities that result in unique or innovative creations. Challenges like building an automaton or a Rube Goldberg machine combine creativity and engineering for an exciting hands-on learning experience. Can a straw be too tall to work? How many chain reactions can you set up in a Rube Goldberg machine? Can a solar oven really cook? These are all questions to explore this week with fun science experiments.

Awesome Summer Science Experiments Week 6: Experiment | Watch | Kits | Ask | Explore | Read

EXPERIMENT: Clever Contraptions

Make a Reallllly Long Straw

Can you drink from a straw that is 3-feet tall? How about even taller? Is there a max? Kids can experiment to find out the answer to these questions by building their own super tall straws. How tall of a straw can your kids make and successfully use? The long straw challenge is on! Do more! For other fun and hard-to-believe science experiments, see our Strange But True science roundup from last summer.

Build a Paper Roller Coaster

We love marble runs of all kinds, but a roller coaster adds the exciting challenge of creating loops. With this activity, kids can design, build, and test a paper roller coaster. Kids will find that potential energy, kinetic energy, and friction all play a role in how the roller coaster works. Can they solve the challenge and create a coaster that a marble can run start to finish? What's the secret to adding loops?

Cook in a Pizza Box Solar Oven

Use the directions in the Build a Pizza Box Solar Oven activity to turn a recycled cardboard box, like a pizza box, into a simple but functional solar oven. Can you take advantage of the Sun's heat to melt marshmallows and chocolate for s'mores? What other foods can you cook in a solar oven?

Build a Rube Goldberg Machine

Nothing says "clever contraption" better than a Rube Goldberg machine! A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine that uses a complex set of chain reactions to accomplish a simple task. Kids will need to think creatively and raid the craft materials, toy bins, and junk drawers to find elements that might work to trigger the chain reactions in their machine. But what task will the machine accomplish? Because a Rube Goldberg machine may have many steps, this is a great activity to have kids diagram and sketch on paper first. (This is a good engineering design practice, too!) Reality check: Designing a working Rube Goldberg machine will take some time and lots of testing to get things just right! Don't forget to take a video of the Rube Goldberg machine in action!

Build a Cardboard Automaton

An automaton is a device with multiple parts that move when a crank or hand-control is activated. The caterpillar shown in the video, for example, has multiple legs that move when the crank is turned. The Make Cardboard Automata experiment helps kids plan and build their own automata from cardboard and craft materials. This hands-on engineering activity is loaded with opportunity for creativity and customization and is a good challenge for older kids!

Use a Pantograph

With a pantograph, you can draw something and simultaneously make a larger or smaller copy of the drawing. Try out this method for enlarging a drawing by making your own pantograph from simple materials. How might this kind of device be used in the everyday world?

WATCH: Videos

Paper Roller Coasters - Fun STEM Activity!
How To Build a Rube Goldberg Machine
Can You Drink From a Really Long Straw?
Draw with a Pantograph - STEM Activity
Make Cardboard Automata
Design and Make Automata
Build A Pizza Box Solar Oven
Light Up Piano Demonstration


Musical and light-up keyboard piano made from Raspberry Pi kit

The following Science Buddies Kit fits in with this week's Clever Contraptions theme:

  • Program a Keyboard Piano that Lights Up: With the Raspberry Pi Projects Kit, kids build their own Raspberry Pi computer (in 30 minutes or less!) and then combine Scratch drag-and-drop programming and circuit-building to build interactive games and toys like writing a program to light up LEDs and make specific sounds when keys on a keyboard are pressed. The Electric Piano is part of a series of 8 guide activities from Science Buddies for the Raspberry Pi Projects Kit. (Note: For families that already own a Raspberry Pi, the Circuit Building Kit for Raspberry Pi is available.)

To learn more about Science Buddies Kits, see our 12 Science Kits for Summer Science Experiments and Discovery recommendations. For other computer programming experiments, see 15+ Coding Activities for Beginners and Beyond.

ASK: Questions

Use these questions to prompt conversation and reflection about the science behind this week's Awesome Summer Science Experiments activities:

  • What kinds of energy are used by the paper roller coaster?
  • What role does gravity play in whether or not a really long straw works?
  • How can a pantograph be put to use to solve a problem?
  • How is a line of dominoes set up to fall down when one is pushed over different than a Rube Goldberg machine?


After trying this week's summer science experiments, kids can learn more about related science and engineering careers, like:

READ: Books

Pair picture and story books like these with this week's Awesome Summer Science Experiments explorations.

Rube Goldberg's Simple Normal Humdrum School Day cover Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines cover Toy and Game Projects cover Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women cover Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum cover The Most Magnificent Thing cover Be a Maker cover Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove cover What Do You Do With an Idea? cover

For more suggestions for science-themed summer reading, see our Summer Reading List. Also, don't miss this roundup of creative STEM activities for storytelling and imaginative play.

Bookmark Awesome Summer Science Experiments Week 6: Clever Contraptions

Rube Goldberg machine, caterpillar automaton, pantograph drawing tool, long straw, solar pizza oven Clever Contraptions Week 6 - part of Awesome Summer Science Experiments series

DO MORE: Keep Experimenting to Answer Science Questions!

For even more contraption-type science experiments that are awesome to do at home, see our Gadgets and Gizmos roundup from last summer.

10 Weeks of Awesome Summer Science Experiments

Follow the full summer series on the Awesome Summer Science Experiments page!

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