Each STEM field—science, technology, engineering, mathematics—offers a choice of
three Supernova activity topics. These are two-part, hands-on, high-level activities
created to challenge you and help you continue along your STEM journey to
excellence. Part 1 involves research, preparation, set up, coordination, and/or
organization. Part 2 includes elements such as analysis, reflection, experimentation,
design, or invention, and culminates in a report created by you.
Report Format Options
No matter what STEM activity you choose, you will need to create a report.
Reports are a regular part of the work of professionals in various STEM fields,
so these tasks will be good preparation for future career demands. Notice that it
doesn't say write a report. You are not restricted to just writing a report, although
you may choose to do so if you like. Any report will probably involve some writing
on your part, but the report itself may be created and presented in any number of
ways. Use your imagination!
You may choose from any of the formats below for your report, or you may create a
combination of these formats. You may create something entirely new as long as your
Supernova mentor approves. The objective is for you to communicate what you have
learned to others in a way that helps them understand what you learned and how you
- Oral report
- Written report
- Poster presentation
- Virtual poster (See www.Glogster.com for ideas.)
- Video production
- Multifaceted format
- Any format of your own design, with your mentor's advance approval
The report must provide sufficient detail so that someone unfamiliar with the topic
can understand the content. For each format, you are encouraged to incorporate a
variety of ways to present your information and to use technology to create a
polished presentation. For example, an oral report might include a PowerPoint
presentation as a visual aid, or a poster presentation might include a slide show
of your activity. Be creative.
A Note About Resources
The books and websites provided for each superactivity topic are presented as
optional resources and are merely suggestions. In most cases, they are not crucial
to the corresponding activities. The Boy Scouts of America makes no guarantee
that they will be available in local public libraries, from booksellers, or online.
The resources represent examples of the types you might use to support your work on
a particular activity. You may very well find alternative and/or additional resources
that serve you as well or better than those presented here.
Supernova Activity Topic: Science
If you are fascinated by how things work and you want to help contribute to a better
planet Earth, the Supernova activity topic choices for science give you a hands-on
- Reduce your environmental impact on Earth.
- Explore the wonders of space technology.
- See why carbonation and candy create an explosive experiment.
Choose any one of these activities and discover how it drives your imagination, your
curiosity, and your fascination with science.
Environmental Science: New Things From Old
This activity can be done individually or in a group. Your task is to investigate the
logistics and environmental value of recycling and repurposing used items into new
products and to invent a product that is predominantly made from used item(s).
Part 1: Research
- Find two products made primarily from recycled materials. Describe the
recycling process and the production process for each of these products.
Discuss with your mentor:
- The impact of these recycled products on the environment compared with the
impact of the same products made with all-new materials
- The environmental impact of the two products regarding pollution control and
remediation, such as hazardous byproducts in the air, water, and waste
- The environmental impact of the two products regarding resource conservation
and management, such as animal life, plant life, water, fuel, and protected
- The environmental impact of the two products regarding production infrastructure,
such as land use, municipal planning, transportation, and energy
Part 2: Product Invention and Report
- Develop your own design for a product that can be made by recycling or
repurposing other items. The items being recycled or repurposed should form the
bulk of the new product. For instance, avoid designs that are 5 percent recycled
and 95 percent new materials. Use ONE of the following two approaches.
- Find an item that isn't environmentally friendly, doesn't break down easily, and
is typically thrown away. Invent a new product that would repurpose that item.
The recycling of tires into road surfacing material and into playground mulch is
an example of this approach.
- Think of an often-used product that is typically made with all-new materials.
Develop a way to make that product out of recycled or repurposed materials.
(The production of paper grocery bags made from recycled paper instead of
"new" paper is an example of this approach.)
- Summarize design specifications of the product you invented for requirement 1,
and create a drawing, model, or prototype. What resources would be needed
to carry out a large-scale production of your invention? Speculate on the
environmental impact of using your product over a comparable product made
with all-new materials. Create a report that includes your design specifications,
photos or illustrations, a summary of how your product can be mass produced,
and a case for the environmental soundness of your product.
Susan Casey. Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors (for younger youth).
Russel Gehrke. Recycling Projects for the Evil Genius (lots of how-tos). McGraw-Hill/
TAB Electronics, 2010.
Garth Johnson. 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew (pretty
pictures, good inspiration, no how-tos). Quarry Books, 2009.
Movie "Science": Misconceptions, Misunderstandings, and Mistakes
This activity can be done individually or in a group. There are many popular movies
and television shows with plots that involve space travel in the near or distant future.
Your task in this activity is to watch one such production and identify scientific or
technological advances that appear to be possible and those that appear to be
impossible and explain.
Part 1: Research
- View a movie or television show involving space, space travel, or life in space. In
the movie or show, identify two instances of scientific "principles" or technological
"advances" that violate currently accepted scientific principles or misrepresent
currently available technology. Discuss the following with your mentor:
- The scientific principle that is violated and how. Describe the technology that is
misrepresented and how.
- Two potentially plausible technological or scientific advances in your chosen
movie—show and explain how these could potentially come to be in the
future. Discuss the hurdles that would have to be overcome in order to
develop those advances.
- The scientifically based reasoning that leads you to believe scientists, engineers,
mathematicians, and technology specialists can overcome these hurdles.
Part 2: Report
Create a report that is addressed to the producers of your chosen movie or show,
from the perspective of a scientist hired as a consultant on the production. Include
suggestions for the producers to make the movie more scientifically or technologically
accurate, realistic, and plausible.
Jeanne Cavelos. The Science of Star Wars: An Astrophysicist's Independent
Examination of Space Travel, Aliens, Planets, Robots as Portrayed in the Star Wars
Films and Books. St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.
Michio Kaku. Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of
Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. Anchor, 2009.
Lawrence M. Krauss. The Physics of Star Trek. Basic Books, 2007.
Tom Rogers. Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics: Hollywood's Best Mistakes, Goofs and
Flat-Out Destructions of the Basic Laws of the Universe. Sourcebooks Hysteria, 2007.
Household Chemistry: Diet Coke and Mentos Explosions
This activity can be done individually or in a group, but it is much more fun as a
group. For this experiment, you will investigate how and why dropping a Mentos
candy into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke creates a massive explosion.
Part 1: Research and Experiment Design
Research this Diet Coke and Mentos phenomenon by doing the following:
- Find out what others have discovered about how and why this experiment works.
Note who discovered what about the experiment. Keep track of your references
- Formulate a hypothesis that you would like to test.
- Design an experiment to test your hypothesis. Be sure to get approval from your
mentor prior to conducting your experiment. Make sure your plans for the
experiment include an outside location, a list of supplies needed (which should be
inexpensive, readily available, and safe), adequate safety protocols and equipment
(safety goggles, etc.), plans for accurate and precise measurements, a list of stepby-
step procedures, number of trials, and plans for recording and analysis of data.
Part 2: Experiment and Report
Conduct your experiment. You might want to videotape your experimental trials
and include some video clips in your final report.
- Discuss the following with your mentor:
- What happened during the experiment.
- How the evidence supported or contradicted your hypothesis.
- Whether the experiment raised any new questions for you.
- Whether something unexpected happened during the experiment.
Tell how what happened might suggest about a future experiment on this
- Create a report that describes your hypothesis, experiment, and conclusions.
(For guidance, see "Report Format Options" earlier in this section.)
Theodore Gray. Theo Gray's Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do at Home-
But Probably Shouldn't. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2011.
Robert Bruce Thompson. Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments:
All Lab, No Lecture. O'Reilly Media, 2008.
Using your favorite search engine online (with your parent's or guardian's
permission), enter search terms EepyBird, Mythbusters, and "Diet Coke
Supernova Activity Topic: Technology
From the energy that keeps our homes comfortable and our lights on, to the
communication that lets us talk to people around the world, to the special effects
used in the movies, we depend on technology. Choose any one of the following
projects and you will have fun while learning about today's technology.
This activity can be done individually or in a group. The technology to harness
energy has always been a significant factor in human progress. The harnessing of
energy from wind, sun, water, biomass, fossil fuels, and other sources has evolved
dramatically over time.
Part 1: Field Trip
Arrange and go on a field trip to a site where you can learn about innovative and/
or historical examples of energy production, storage, and use and the ways people
are making such processes sustainable. Possible sites include power plants, fuel
manufacturers or refineries, power generation sites, energy- or resource-efficient
buildings, historical sites of energy use or production, educational centers,
museums, and so on.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
- Create a report that describes your field trip and what you learned.
- For the energy production and/or use that you chose, find out about the current
state of technology, its course in historical that led to today's technology, and
future directions for this technology. Discuss the following with your mentor.
- The effect on the environment, our natural resources, and our economy of our
- Whether current methods are sustainable over the long term
John Perlin. From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. Harvard University
Terry S. Reynolds. Stronger than a Hundred Men: A History of the Vertical Water
Wheel. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
Robert W. Righter. Wind Energy in America: A History. University of Oklahoma
This activity can be done individually or in a group. It requires the participation of
20 to 30 people.
The scenario: You are the communication chair for a science fair being organized by
your unit. Your responsibility is to gather contact information from all participants
(contestants, judges, staff, and so on) and formulate a communication plan that
will be effective for anticipated communications and necessary-but-unexpected
communications as well. You will need to be able to communicate some information
to everyone, other information to subgroups, and additional information to another
group of individuals.
Part 1: Communication Plan
Before you get started, share your plan with your mentor. Then do the following:
- Solicit volunteers to serve as participants. Give each participant a mock role in
your mock science fair. You will need 20 to 30 such individuals.
- From each participant, gather at least two ways to contact him or her, as well as
an emergency contact. Participants should list their contact modes in order, from
the most-likely-to-be-received to the least-likely-to-be-received.
- Set up plans for how you will broadcast messages to various subgroups, how you
will get emergency messages to groups or individuals who will have access to the
contact information, how access will be maintained, and back-up plans in case
you are suddenly unavailable.
Think about the kinds of information you will need to communicate. This
sometimes influences the mode of communication and should also be a
part of your communication plans.
- Test your plan by playing a few Mad Libs via your communication plan. To test
your communication plan, choose a particular Mad Lib and send out requests for
various types of words (verbs, adjectives, nouns, and so on) to a group of
individuals and subgroups. Make sure you cover your entire set of recipients or
recipient groups, and be sure to give everyone a deadline for a response.
If you don't get responses, follow up with additional messages, perhaps via different
communication modes. When you have what you need, make sure you communicate
the finished Mad Lib back to the relevant individuals.
A Mad Lib is an unfinished story that is complete except for missing words,
indicated by blanks. The words for each blank are in categories such as
verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Missing words are supplied by folks who don't
know the story, thus creating a funny, crazy, mad story.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
Gather some statistics relevant to your communication plan and your participants.
Then do the following:
- Discuss with your counselor:
- The many distinct modes of communication your participants used
- Any modes of communication used but with which you were unfamiliar
- The technology used for your broadcast communication messages and
whether that technology was the most effective mode of communication for
- Create a report that outlines your communication plan, how you implemented it,
and how effective it was. Include information about the biggest hurdle, anything
unexpected that happened, and what you would do differently if this had been a
real assignment for you.
Roger Price. Best of Mad Libs. Price Stern Sloan, 2008.
Roger Price and Leonard Stern. More Best of Mad Libs. Price Stern Sloan, 2009.
For information about Mad Libs, go to www.madlibs.com. Click on the "Mad
Libs Online Widget" to try it out.
This activity can be done individually or in a group. Many of today's movies
involve extensive use of technology to create illusions of magnificent landscapes,
mythical beasts, epic battle scenes, and so on. This activity involves learning about
some of these technologies and applying them in a real-life setting.
Part 1: Building Knowledge
Choose a favorite, recent movie that is heavily laden with special effects, available for
home viewing, and accompanied by supplemental material that describes and shows
how the special effects were created. After you have chosen a movie, do the following:
- Watch and study the material on the special effects.
- Do some supplemental research on some of these special effects to build your
understanding of them.
- Choose one scene in the movie, or even one frame, and describe in detail to your
mentor how that scene or frame was put together using various special effects.
- Discuss with your mentor which of the special effects you would implement
(even if just crudely) if you were to take a still photo or make a short video and
wanted to give the illusion of something magnificent or unusual happening.
Part 2: Creating a Grand Illusion
Develop a plan for creating a still photo or a short video that would require special
effects to convey the image or action that you desire to show. Be sure you share your
plan with your mentor before you get started. For a still photo, make a crude sketch
of what you want the photo to look like. For a video, make a storyboard of the
A storyboard is a sequence of rough illustrations that depict the primary
scenes or action shots of your story.
In either case, describe the special effects you would use to create each element of
the piece. Discuss the following with your mentor:
- What you would do first and how.
- The sequence of special events and how everything goes together in the end. Do as
many of the parts of the photo or video yourself as possible and describe what
would best be done by highly trained and/or educated professionals.
The elements of the video/photo that you created must be planned and
implemented using the highest safety protocols. Have your mentor examine
your plan and suggest improvements. Your mentor must approve it before you
get started. Create a report that shows your understanding of special effects
and how they might be applied to the photo or video that you envisioned.
Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols. Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling Off Your Shorts. Michael
Wiese Productions, 2010.
Richard Rickett. Special Effects: The History and Technique. Billboard Books, 2007.
Steve Wolf. The Secret Science Behind Movie Stunts & Special Effects. Skyhorse
Supernova Activity Topic: Engineering
Have you ever studied how your bicycle works? To learn how a bicycle is put together
(or engineered), here is a project for disassembling one. Or what about making a high-performance
paper glider? Or having a contest to see who can drop a raw egg without
breaking it? Choose any one of these activities to learn more about engineering.
Deconstruct and Analyze: Mechanical Designs
This activity can be done individually or in a small group. Your task is to take
apart a bicycle (or other suitably complex mechanical device; see the note below),
analyze the components, and describe how the components work (both separately
Part 1: Preplanning and Set-Up
- Do the following:
- With your mentor's assistance, choose an unwanted older bicycle—or any
other complex mechanical device—perhaps not completely in working order,
that is a bit beyond what you feel comfortable dismantling.
- Find a location for the project where you can take things apart, leave the
pieces undisturbed, and come back another time.
- Determine and gather the necessary tools. You are encouraged to find resources
to help you with the deconstruction, such as written instructions or a repair
specialist willing to volunteer his/her time. (The specialist cannot touch the
object or the parts, or handle the tools during dismantling. You and any fellow
youth must do all of the dismantling.)
Part 2: Deconstruction, Analysis, and Report
This next phase involves deconstructing the device. Take pictures as you work, and
make notes of what is happening in each picture.
- Determine the following:
- The major components of the bicycle
- What parts make up each component
- How the components work together
- The mechanical or electronic advantages that a minimum of three parts or
It is not crucial for the object you deconstruct to be a bicycle. Any mechanical
device, machine, or tool will do, as long as it is suitably complex for your
abilities and knowledge and is approved by your mentor. Examples include
but are not limited to manual typewriters, old clocks, old sewing machines,
and so on.
If you wish to deconstruct something that is electronic in nature (rather than just
mechanical), then you will need to learn about additional safety protocols that
must be observed while deconstructing electronics. Your mentor may suggest
and help to secure the help of a qualified electronics expert for those projects.
You must demonstrate to your mentor that you know and understand these
additional safety protocols prior to beginning your deconstruction.
Whatever you choose to deconstruct, you must adapt the questions above
to suit the object you are deconstructing and address those questions in
- Discuss the following with your mentor:
- What might cause a failure in one of the components
- The kinds of failures that can be fixed if you are using the device away from
home (for example, if you are out mountain biking)
- The basic elements of keeping the device well maintained
- Considering the intended owner/user and uses of this device, discuss
improvements to the design that could be made.
- Create a report that communicates your understanding of the experience and
addresses the following points.
- Document the deconstruction process, your analysis of the components, and
how they work together
- Document your analysis of failure possibilities plus maintenance requirements,
and what these suggest about design improvements
Bryan Bergeron. Teardowns: Learn How Electronics Work by Taking Them Apart.
McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 2010.
Naval Education and Training Program. Basic Machines and How They Work. Dover
Build and Test: High Performance Paper Gliders
This activity can be done individually, but works much better with at least two people.
Your task is to measure how differences in design affect the flight characteristics of a
glider. You will accomplish this by building and testing some high-performance paper
gliders. These gliders use a laminated construction method that helps simulate a real
glider much more closely than a simple folded piece of paper.
Part 1: Background Research, Baseline Design Selection, and Test
- Research and discuss the following with your mentor:
- The fundamental parts of a glider
- The basic elements of the physics of stable flight
- Choose a glider design from a kit or plans. (You do not need to design the glider
yourself.) Then do the following:
- Identify one quantitative characteristic to test, such as flight distance, flight time,
average flight speed, and so on. Then identify one qualitative characteristic to
test, such as presence of a stall, dive, flip, left turn, right turn, and so on.
- Hypothesize how variations in one part of the glider, such as wing size,
fuselage length, center of gravity, flap size, and so on, might influence these
characteristics of the glider's performance.
- Build four high-performance gliders, identical except for variations in the
relevant glider part.
- Establish a consistent method to measure each characteristic during a test
flight. Then find a way to launch the gliders in a consistent manner so that
they are launched at the same speed every time. You should perform test
flights with each model five to six times to account for variations in flight
performance. Try to keep the conditions of each test flight the same as for all
the other test flights. Keep records of the results for each test flight.
Part 2: Analyze and Report
Present to your mentor your recorded data in a tabular format as well as a graphical
format. (You may use Excel if you wish.) Then do the following:
- Evaluate the data and determine how the variations in the tested glider part
influenced the flight characteristics you observed. Based on the data you gathered,
predict how the glider would perform relative to the flight characteristics you
observed if you were to build a glider with another variation in the same
- Suggest an ideal design of your tested glider part that would maximize the
glider's performance relative to the flight characteristics you observed and
explain your reasoning for this design.
- Create a report that describes your glider, the flight tests, the flight data, and
your conclusions. Include the procedures you followed to ensure consistent
- Share the flight records and data you have gathered with your mentor. Discuss
what you have learned.
Science 85 Magazine. The Paper Airplane Book: The Official Book of the Second Great International Paper Airplane Contest (best book for laminated paper techniques).
Science 85 Magazine, 1985.
Hubert Smith. The Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics (for background research).
McGraw-Hill Professional, 1991.
AG Industries WhiteWings
Website: http://www.whitewings.com (glider kits)
NASA Beginner's Guide to Aeronautics
(For background research, look at the gliders section.)
The Online Paper Airplane Museum
Website: http://www.theonlinepaperairplanemuseum.com (free glider plans)
Website: http://www.zovirl.com (For glider plans, click on the Paper Airplanes tag.)
Design and Redesign: Egg Drop Contest
This is a group activity and requires at least two youth. Your task is to design a
container in which to place a raw egg, so that when the container with the egg is
dropped, the egg survives the impact without breaking.
Part 1: Research, Design, and Contest Set-Up
Research and describe to your mentor:
- The physical forces affecting the outcome of an egg drop test
- Desirable characteristics of container materials
- Rules for other egg drop contests. (With your parent's or guardian's permission,
- As a group, come to a consensus about the constraints and rules for your egg drop
contest. Adopt, adapt, or make up your own rules. You might want to break into
divisions, each with its own rules. (Youth with stronger STEM backgrounds should
adopt more challenging constraints and rules.) Here are some guidelines. You must:
- Agree on constraints that the egg container must meet, such as dimensions,
weight, allowable materials, disallowed elements, and so on.
- Agree on rules to ensure fairness, such as judging decisions, conditions for
elimination, scoring system, how to win, and so on. You may wish to have
several different ways to win.
- Communicate the constraints and competition rules to all participants.
- Design and build your container.
- Have fun—conduct the contest!
Part 2: Analysis, Redesign, and Report
Analyze how your container performed, and discuss with your mentor your design
strategy and how well the container you designed performed. Then do the following:
- Given your container's performance, your knowledge of the physical forces acting
on it during a test drop, and your observations of other participants' containers
and results, redesign your container. Your redesigned container should still fit
within the contest constraints but offer improved performance.
- Consider whether you would alter the constraints, how, and why. Create a report
that communicates your understanding of the experience and addresses the
- Describe your original egg container, your original design strategy, and your
analysis of its performance.
- Describe your redesigned container and the reasoning that led to your
Leonardo Da Vinci Egg Drop Devices
Website: http://www.niemworks.com/else/eggdrop.html (This site shows beautiful
devices designed to look like Leonardo Da Vinci built them.)
3-Egg Drop Challenge
Website: http://teachertech.rice.edu/Participants/pschweig/eggdrop.html (Look here
for rules that offer a more challenging contest.)
Winston-Salem/Forsythe County Egg Drop Competition
Website: http://wsfceggdrop.com (This site includes a nice set of rules that utilizes a
mathematical formula to determine a winner, based on several design and
Supernova Activity Topic: Mathematics
Have you ever watched bungee jumpers and wondered why they don't hit the
ground? You can make a model of your own and figure it out. Or, what about the
Yellowstone geyser Old Faithful—how can you tell when it will erupt? What about
voting—can you imagine how so many people in so many states can go in, cast a
vote, and come out with a fair result? Mathematics is the key. Choose any one of
these projects to learn how it's done.
From Simulations to Real Life: Modeling Bungee Jumping
This activity requires at least two people and works much better with a group of
three to six people.
The scenario: The Acme Daredevil Adventure Company provides rock climbing,
skydiving, extreme skiing, and cliff diving adventures to the public. To appeal to a
broader market, the board decided to add bungee jumping to its list of offerings. The
details of this new venture now need to be worked.
The company has several sites planned for bungee jumping, and each site has a
different jump height. Your task is to simulate bungee jumping using rubber bands
and an action figure (doll) to determine the ultimate length, or the number of rubber
bands to be used with your action figure at any given height to guarantee a safe
jump. For maximum thrills, the jump must allow your action figure to come as close
to the floor as possible.
Part 1: Set-Up and Simulation
Tape a weight(s) to the doll's back so that it is heavy enough to stretch the rubber band
"bungee cord." Tie one or two rubber bands (the unstretched size should be about
4 inches) to the doll's feet and drop it, headfirst, from various heights. Keep raising
the jump height until the head no longer hits the floor.
Once you reach this height, perform three trials, measure the height of the drop each
time, calculate the average, and calculate the maximum error between the average
and the drop heights used to find that average. (Conduct a test drop several times to
practice taking readings.)
Continue adding rubber bands to see what the average drop height will be for
different numbers of rubber bands. Do the experiment with at least six different
numbers of rubber bands. Use a tabular chart to help you organize and record your
data. (You may use Excel or create your own tables.)
What Is a Scatter Plot? Scatter plots use horizontal and vertical axes on a
graph to plot data points and show how much one variable (or measurable
"value") is affected by another. Each variable can be represented on
the scatter plot with a dot. Once the scatter plot has been filled in with
a number of dots, you should be able to see how the variables are
"scattered" to show a trend. For more information about scatter plots,
use your favorite search engine on the Internet (with your parent's or
guardian's permission), or ask your mentor.
Part 2: Analysis and Report
- Create a scatter plot of ordered pairs of the type (number of rubber bands,
average drop height). You may do this by hand or using data analysis software,
such as Excel.
- Using the scatter plot you have created, determine whether the points appear to lie
on or near a line. Find such a line. If your mathematics background is not yet
extensive, then find such a line by "eyeballing it" and drawing it onto the scatter
plot with a ruler. If your mathematics background is extensive, then use a graphing
calculator or data analysis software of your choice to find the line of best fit for
- Describe to your mentor how to use the line (graphical form or symbolic form) to
make predictions. Then complete the following sentence (hypothesis): "If the
height of the drop is _________________, then I predict that the number of rubber
bands needed is _________________."
- Test your prediction and analyze the outcome. Determine whether the prediction
matched reality, how far off the prediction was, and what errors or issues arose
that may have thrown off the results of your simulation. Test and analyze three
- Analyze the maximum errors found in your tests. Then find out the height of
your favorite location (such as the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, or Golden Gate
Bridge). If you drop your action figure from the top of that location, how many
rubber bands would you need for a safe drop from that height? What would you
expect to be the maximum error in your prediction?
- Now, consider the realities of bungee jumping with real human beings using real
bungee cords and equipment. Discuss the following with your mentor:
- The factors that need to be considered when testing this equipment to develop
- Reliable statistics on the risk of serious injury or death while bungee jumping
- Bungee jumping is one of the high-adventure activities that is expressly not
allowed by the Boy Scouts of America. What do you think of this policy?
- Create a report addressed to the Risk Management Board of the Acme Daredevil
Adventure Company. In your report, include the following:
- A description of your simulation
- Your simulation data displayed in a chart and graph
- How your data led to your ability to make predictions about safe bungee
- The variables that might have affected your predictions
Share your report with your mentor.
Source: The ideas for this activity are based on multiple versions of an activity
available online titled Bungee Barbie and Kamikaze Ken. The originator of
idea for this activity is unknown.
Linking the Past to the Future: Predicting Old Faithful's Next Eruption
This activity can be done individually, but works much better with three to six people.
The scenario: You have lined up a summer job as a junior park ranger at Yellowstone
National Park, where you know many visitors come to see the geyser Old Faithful.
Many visitors arrive just after Old Faithful has erupted and they typically ask a nearby
ranger when it is next expected to erupt. Your task is to analyze past data on Old
Faithful's eruptions in order to devise a strategy for predicting the next eruption.
Part 1: Data Gathering and Initial Analysis
- Gather information about geysers in general and their behavior.
- Find data on intervals (length of time) between eruptions for Old Faithful. Be
aware that Old Faithful's eruption behavior has changed over the years. Use the
most current data you can find. For your analysis and to test your prediction
strategy, you will need information on all of the intervals for three consecutive
24-hour periods, plus intervals for the fourth consecutive 24-hour period. Each
additional youth must use intervals for different days.
- Create two graphical displays of the data from three days of eruptions, analyze
the patterns, and formulate your initial prediction strategy.
Part 2: Further Analysis, Refinement of Prediction Strategy, and Report
- Do the following:
- Using the data you have collected for part 1, determine how much variability
you see from day to day. How much variability is there within a single 24-hour
period? Is knowledge of one interval sufficient to predict the next eruption?
Why or why not?
- Determine what patterns in the data are illuminated (or perhaps obscured) in
the different graphical displays. Of the graphs you used, which one best
illustrated the wait time pattern for Old Faithful? Would you refine your
prediction strategy? If so, why and how? If not, why not?
- Use your prediction strategy to estimate all of the eruptions for the fourth
24-hour period, and compare your estimates to the actual eruption times.
Calculate the differences between your estimates and the actual times. What
is the maximum difference? Why are there patterns in the Old Faithful data? Is
there a geological explanation?
- Create a report that describes and addresses your prediction strategy, includes
your graphical displays, and explains how your graphical displays support
- Discuss the data you have collected, your report, and what you have learned
with your mentor.
T. Scott Bryan. Geysers: What They Are and How They Work, 2nd ed. Mountain Press
Publishing Company, 2005.
William J. Fritz. Roadside Geology of the Yellowstone Country. Mountain Press
Publishing Company, 1985.
A Paradox of Counting: Voting Methods and Fair Decisions
This activity can be done individually or with a group of two to six people, and
requires cooperation from about 20 to 30 individuals.
The scenario: Your unit wants to plan a superactivity for next summer but cannot
agree on what that activity should be. There are four options under consideration,
and your unit decides to vote. Your task is to collect ballots and tabulate results
using several different voting methods.
This is not a binding decision on your unit! This is an exercise, but one that
will be more meaningful if you use real-life possibilities.
Part 1: Ballot Setup, Gathering, and Tabulating
- Decide on four superactivities that your unit would genuinely be interested in
doing next summer. Aim for four genuine options, none of which is likely to
receive a majority of the votes. Discuss these options with your mentor before
doing the following:
- Create ballots on which each voter can list his/her first, second, third, and
fourth choices from among the four prospective superactivities.
- Find 20 to 30 unit members, prospective guests for the superactivity, unit
leaders, parents, and so on, to complete one ballot each. Each voter should
vote sincerely, without trying to strategize.
- Do some research and learn how to tabulate winners using each of the
following four voting methods:
- Plurality method
- Borda count method
- Plurality-with-elimination method (sometimes called the instant
- Pair-wise comparison method (sometimes called Copeland's method)
Part 2: Analysis and Report
- As you tabulate the results using each voting method, evaluate each method and
discuss the following with your mentor.
- What do you notice? How fair is each method?
- How would the results be affected if two or three voters had cast strategic
ballots (instead of sincere ballots), in an effort to "not waste their votes"?
- Which of the four voting methods do you believe is the right voting method
for this decision in your unit? Why?
- Consider how we elect the president of the United States of America.
- What voting method do we use?
- What are its advantages and disadvantages?
- Do you believe each voting citizen in the United States has an equal say
in the vote tabulation?
- Is it possible for citizens to cast strategic votes and influence the outcome
of a presidential election?
- Create a report that summarizes the results from the various voting methods,
outlines your analysis, and comments on voting methods for the U.S. presidency.
Share your report with your mentor.
Donald G. Saari. Chaotic Elections! A Mathematician Looks at Voting (for youth with
stronger mathematics backgrounds). American Mathematical Society, 2001.
William Poundstone. Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can
Do About It). Hill and Wang, 2008.