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I have a challenge for you and the kids today. Build your own Snack Mix Machine. Why? Because it’s fun! And because it teaches about an important part of engineering – simple machines. I totally believe that learning experiences at meal and snack time make a big impact. And this one is perfect for a scout meeting or school get together. Or even a fun family night at home. Let’s get building!
Snack Mix Machine Challenge Rules
Rules sounds so official, but really there are only two: 1) Your machine must be able to mix at least two different kinds of snacks. 2) It must use two different types of simple machines to get the job done. But the biggest thing to remember here is that this project is about the process, not necessarily the end result. Because that’s where the learning happens.
Let’s start with a little basic mechanical engineering – simple machines. A simple machine is a mechanical device that can change the direction of a force and they are considered the building blocks of all machines. There are six of these building blocks and here’s a quick description of each:
- Lever: A stiff board that rests on a center turning point called a fulcrum that is used to lift objects. Think teeter totter.
- Wheel and axle: A wheel with a rod attached to the middle can help lift objects. Think bicycle.
- Pulley: Adds a rope to a wheel allows you to change direction of a force. Think flagpole or window blinds.
- Inclined plane: A hard, flat surface with one end higher than the other. Aids in moving objects. Think slide.
- Wedge: Two inclined planes put together and helps push objects apart. Think axe.
- Screw: An inclined plane wrapped around a pole that can lift objects or hold them together. Think screw :)
We loved that episode of Sid the Science Kid that talks about Inclined Planes. The song is totally catchy (i.e. sticks in your head forever!). “Do it like the Egyptians did with an inclined plane!”
Simple Machine Snack Mix Station Supplies Needed
Now on to building your own machine. Here’s what you need.
- Snack mix ingredients like Goldfish® crackers (See below for some fun flavor mixes.)
- Design notebook or paper and pencil
- Cardboard and other recyclables like milk cartons, paper towel rolls, plastic bowls
- Materials that could be used for axles like dowel rods or PVC pipe
- Rope or twine for pulleys
- Screws and screwdriver
- Wood or other materials for wedges
- Cups or bowls
- Tape and/or glue
The first step is to design your machine. We decided to go for a wheel/axle and inclined plane combination. My five year old was amazing at bringing ideas to the machine and it was a reminder to never underestimate our kids. I thought she might be a little young for this but she LOVED the project.
Next, build. We used the Goldfish crackers carton to make our inclined plane. Clear tape was definitely our friend on that. And we happened to have a clear rod lying around and hot glue gunned our cups to it. This serves as our makeshift wheel and axle. To help our machine stand up, we needed some height so used quart sized milk cartons from the recycling bin. You can punch holes through them with a pen and then feed the axle through it.
This was definitely the tastiest part of the project! We optimized the height of the inclined plane because at first it missed the cup. And the milk cartons kept falling over, but we put some coins in them to weigh them down and keep them stable. And you might notice that there are holes and patches in random places in our machine. Chalk that up to trial and error. Once we got it rolling, testing was all about flavor combos :) My daughter said we had to test them all to make sure the machine really worked. I decided it was time to introduce her to permutations and told her our stomachs aren’t big enough for that (84 options!!).
Snack Mix Recipes
There are so many yummy snack mix combos you could make for this project. I loved the clear plastic trays I picked up at Walmart along with all the ingredients. Goldfish crackers are perfect because they come in so many different flavors and are sturdy enough to make it through a few machine trial runs. I love that you can control the nutritional value here too. Kids low on protein? Add nuts. Need more fiber? Bring on the dried fruit. Just having a good time? Chocolate chips, baby. Here are a few of the blends we sampled while building our machines.
- Tropical Rainbow: Goldfish crackers – Colors || tropical dried fruit mix || toasted corn kernels
- Going Nuts: Goldfish crackers – Colors || peanuts || Goldfish crackers – Pretzel
- S’mores: Goldfish crackers – Graham || marshmallows || chocolate chips
- Choco-berry: Goldfish crackers – Pretzel || dried cranberries || chocolate chips
- PB&J: Goldfish crackers – Pretzel || peanut butter chips || dried cranberries
There were so many options, even in the gigantic cartons perfect for Scouts or school gatherings. Late for a meeting? You’ll find them at Walmart in the cracker aisle…
More Snacktime STEM
Did you have fun with this project? Check out last year’s Goldfish crackers STEM project using pulleys. Or check out the Biology of Yogurt or learn about polymers with Homemade Fruit Gummies. And since Snacktime STEM is one of our favorite topics, I promise you there will be more. So sign up for the Left Brain Craft Brain newsletter to hear about them.