Distribute the following materials to each team:
– 3 sheets of paper
– 3 drinking straws
– 6 candies with a hole (eg lifesavers)
– 30cm (1′) of sticky-tape
Using only these resources, each team aims to construct a vehicle that can be powered by breath only.
Allow ten minutes for planning and construction.
When ready, ask each team to prop their vehicle on a defined line, and permit them to give their vehicle one, long puff of breath to propel their vehicle forward.
The team which powers their vehicle to move the farthest distance, wins.
How To Play Narrative
This exercise has all the hallmarks of a classic in the making. It’s the standard format of a group initiative involving limited resources, but leveraging the innate desire of human-beings to devise better and more energy efficient vehicles, this exercise comes into its own.
Begin by dividing your group into smaller teams of three to five people. Much more than five, and the teams become a little unwieldy, with little for some of the group to do.
Then, distribute the following materials, one set per group:
Having now grabbed the attention of your group, explain that their task is to build a vehicle using only the distributed materials, within 10 minutes.
Announce that the vehicle should be more functional than artistic, because when the time expires, every vehicle will be given the opportunity to be powered, by one person’s breath, to measure how far it can travel.
Expect many questions about what is or is not permitted, but short of connecting a motor to the paper vehicle, your answer will often be an emphatic “Yes!”
At the conclusion of the allotted time, ask each team to prop their vehicle on a defined line, and permit them to give their vehicle one, big, long puff of breath to propel their vehicle forward as far as possible.
Technically, there should only be one attempt, but on occasions I have permitted some groups to continue puffing, provided they kept their bodies (mouth) behind the line.
Of course, the team which moves their air-powered vehicle the farthest distance, wins.
Practical Leadership Tips
From experience, the tests are best conducted on a large, wide and shiny surface such as a floor. On a few occasions, when a table or a bench top was used, some vehicles were powered accidentally over the edge, clearly short of their full potential journey.
This is clearly a fun exercise, but don’t miss the opportunity to leverage this task to help your group explore its creative process. In particular, you could invite your group to reflect on many key performance measures such as effective decision-making processes and the necessary ingredients for stimulating creativity. See the Reflection tab for more.
Round-hole-in-the-centre candies (lollies) such as Lifesavers are ideal for this exercise, but not always readily available. Please note, they are not critical to the success of the activity – you can dispense with them, and simply invite your group to devise their own form of wheels.
You could integrate Air-Powered Vehicle into a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to collaborate and solve problems as small teams working together towards a common goal.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Having a Growth Mindset
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Resolving Conflict Constructively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There’s no doubt that there are opportunities to connect themes of success/failure, continuous improvement, and persistence to this simple yet difficult initiative of building an air-powered vehicle. Some people will struggle and may quickly give up when things don’t go well. Help them focus on effort and continued attempts and less on the results of such. You may wish to share stories of persistence in science such as the innovations of electricity, penicillin, and flight to illustrate the rewards of being resilient.
Equally, there are many opportunities to build social and interpersonal skills in a Full Value context as a part of this activity. In particular, to Let Go & Move On and Set Goals are useful behavioural norms to discuss with your group in advance and/or conclusion of the task. For example, it may be necessary to let go of preconceived ideas about an effective design of the vehicle as much as letting go of past grievances to help a particular team of individuals work well together.
Limited Resources: Naturally, you could permit the use of more or less (or different) resources to inspire the same levels of creativity in your group.
Mechanical Air: It’s fair to say that the breath of one person is unlikely to be as powerful as another. So, employ the use of an electric fan (to power every team’s vehicle) to create a level playing field.
Award-Winning Designs: Award points for two or more elements, such as distance travelled, creative design and for the proportion of resources not used to build a vehicle. The team with the most number of (total) points, wins.
Dynamic team-building exercise, ideal for small groups.
Dynamic team-building event to build tallest tower.
Useful Framing Ideas
Could you imagine a future in which our vehicles could be powered just by our breath? How awesome would that be? In this next exercise, we get to imagine this reality as we construct some prototypes…
Human-beings have been fascinated by vehicles, and in particular, generating ideas to power them with alternative fuels, for a long time. So many options have been developed over the years, including petrol, diesel, steam, water, electricity, nuclear and even waste by-products. Could air, or even our breath, be the next frontier? Let’s find out…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this creative group initiative:
Describe the creative process of your team.
Did your team ‘imagine’ before building or begin building immediately?
How did your team learn from the failures in your vehicle’s design to improve its performance?
What was the most creative element of your team’s design?
The inspiration for Air-Powered Vehicle came from Stephan Turnipseed, Destination Imagination, who presented a number of unique group initiatives during the 2nd China Camp Education Conference, October 2016.