Parents, teachers, babysitters, and daycare providers looking for a fun and safe activity to do with children between the ages of 7 and 12 needn’t look any further! The exploding popsicle stick bomb is an engaging activity to do with children to help them visualize the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, helping them to expand their understanding of science while also igniting a passion for science. The activity consists of weaving together popsicle sticks in such a way that when the tension is released from them they “detonate” and go flying!
Jumbo popsicle sticks (an even number greater than 4) Markers or stickers Flat work surface Uncrowded area for “detonation”
Time: +/- 5 minutes. (This is contingent upon the number of popsicle sticks.) Child Safe. Easily recreated by children as young as five or six. Particularly young children may not understand the concepts of potential energy being communicated. The activity is ideally completed with children around the age of ten.
**There is a potential risk that a child could be hit by a popsicle stick when the chain “explodes.”
The goal of this activity is to provide a simple, safe and fun means of explaining kinetic and potential energy. Understanding energy provides a very basic window into the world of physics and can ignite further interest in the subject. In this activity participants put energy into the popsicle sticks as they arrange them following the instructions. This energy is stored as potential energy, energy that is not shown in the motion of the object. In this case the potential energy is stored by bending the popsicle sticks, like a spring. When the popsicle sticks “explode”, it is because the potential energy in the popsicle sticks is unleashed and the popsicle sticks spring back to being flat, moving the entire structure violently.This conversion of potential energy energy to kinetic energy can also be used to describe a ball that is dropped being moved by gravity, the potential energy in this case is from the height that the ball is being held at. The concept can even be used to explain more complex ideas like nuclear power, roller coasters and satellite orbits.
Step 1: Acquire Popsicle Sticks.
The activity can be completed with any number of popsicle sticks, from 10 to 10,000. The number will affect the final size of the chain. We used 24 jumbo popsicles sticks, such as these
Separate the sticks into two equal groups. Recommended: Distinguish one group from the other in some way, i.e. color coding, the use of stickers. We two different colored markers to distinguish the two different groups. This will 1) allow you to more clearly see the pattern you are creating 2) make it easier to know where to put the next stick in the sequence.
Step 2: Begin Assembly
Take two popsicle sticks, lay one over the other. This creates a “V” shape. The popsicle sticks should only touch where the point of the “V” is. The stick on top will be called the top stick and the stick on bottom will be called the bottom stick
Take a third popsicle stick and place it on top of the top stick, but under the bottom stick to create a weave.
**Make sure to keep pressure on these sticks as you add more in order to prevent the sticks from sliding off of eachother.
With the apex of the V pointing at your body, add another stick to the right of the third stick. This time place it below the top stick, but on top of the bottom stick. Make sure to leave space between this new stick and the third stick to avoid difficulty later. Your popsicle sticks should create an A with two crosses.
Rotate the A shape and add a new stick. Place this stick on top of the last stick, but under the third stick. This should create a square shape with a different stick on top of each corner.
At this point you should notice a pattern like a weave with the bottom , third, fourth, and most recent stick. This is the pattern we hope to continue
Step 6: If You Are Having Trouble
...placing this stick, try rotating the A so that the ends of the third and fourth stick hang off of the table.
Add a new popsicle stick under the bottom stick (the leg of the A that is furthest from your body)and on top of the most recent stick. Again you can twist the structure so that the bottom and most recent stick hang off of the edge of the table so that it is easier to add the new stick.
Now add another stick, on top of the most recent stick and below the parallel stick next to the most recent stick.
The picture shows the structure twisted off the table. As mentioned before, doing this will make adding the new stick much easier
Add another stick, again on top of the most recent stick and under the parallel stick just next to the most recent stick.
You may now notice a pattern of how sticks are added. By following the pattern of steps 8 and 9 you can continue the structure as long as you like.
The pattern is further demonstrated in the pictures below.
Step 11: More Photos
Step 12: Closing the Chain
Once you are pleased with the length of your popsicle stick chain, you can end it whenever you like.
The chain is closed by adding a popsicle on top of the most recent stick and under the parallel stick just next to it and slide the other end of the new stick under the stick that is under the most recent stick.
Step 13: Troubleshooting and Tips
- Except the first four sticks, all green sticks should be parallel to each other and all orange sticks should be parallel to each other.
- Whenever adding a new stick, make sure that the previous two sticks both have some free portion left.
It is easier to weave on the edge of the desk.
The space between two parallel sticks should be a little less than one third of a stick length, since every stick goes through four sticks. The fifth stick added should leave some portion of the fourth stick free. The sixth stick will go through the fourth stick too. squeeze the initial “V” if necessary.