developing a new activity: free fall


I'm not sure if this is a right way to call this activity, but we tried a new activity called "Free Fall" at Open Make: Time. In this activity, people explore how things fall by dropping an object off a bucket from 23 feet (7 meters) high. Our goals for this activity were not only to let people observe how things fall, but also to encourage them to make the falling as slow as possible by modifying the falling objects.

(Visitors making falling objects. The sign says “How slow can it fall?”)

Open Make day was our very first time trying this activity out on the floor, and from the bold attempt, we learned a lot about this new activity. So I would like to take this blogging opportunity for some reflections.


Walter created a bucket mechanism as a launching system for dropping an object from a height. He started with this small-scale prototype to test if the launching mechanism works (and it worked perfectly!). When the bucket reaches the ceiling, the lever is pushed down and opens the lid to release an object.

The height was not so high at this point, but it was enough to experiment with many different objects and shapes to see how they fall.

The power of height:
On the evening before the Open Make day, we finally set up the bucket launching system. In our prototyping, we were using a 2 gallon bucket, but this time we used two 5 gallon buckets and hanged them from the ring near the ceiling at the skylight area.

Look at this photo!

I was fascinated with the height and the large scale set up, and undoubtedly, so were visitors. Besides, we were at the very front of the whole Open Make activity area. How exciting it is that the first thing visitors see is the scene of the 5 gallon buckets going ups and downs!

Just by adding the height, the activity became more dynamic and simply much more fun! Also, in stead of using a usual lid for the bucket, we put a clear transparent lid so that people could see what object was going up to be released. And that was really good. We noticed there was a lot of cheering from people on the floor as each bucket went up. Each time an object was released, people were watching how it was falling. I found it interesting that a “personal” object that someone made became “social” by being dropped from such a height as people watches.

This was like a cherry blossom falling.

There are so many elements of facilitating this activity. One big responsibility is to operate the bucket launching system the whole time (we never let visitors do that part, because it can be dangerous if they accidentally release their hands from the rope).

Pulling down the rope each time to lift the bucket up was fun to watch and also fun to do. I felt like I was part of their dropping experiments and could witness all the interesting behaviors of the falling objects. Some objects are spinning, others are tumbling. Or some are falling with random motions, others are just falling straight. It was also interesting to ask visitors questions before releasing the object they made, such as, "What do you think how it's going to fall?" "Do you want to point your finger to where it will fall?" "Do you think it is going to spin?" etc..

Falling with grace! This boy added feathers around a pin wheel, and that made the falling much slower.

The environment:

Because of the eye-catching large scale set up, the activity area got crowded quickly, or more precisely, the table got really messy. We only had one big round table in the activity area, and it didn’t take a long time to realize that at least two tables should have been out there: one for materials and the other one for building. If it had not been on such a big event day and if it had been happening in the Tinkering Studio, we probably would have had flexibilities to be able to throw in one more table even during the workshop going on, but on this day, I was just watching the overcrowding with frustrated feelings...(oh my!)


As for the materials, we had color papers, plastic bags, paper plates, mini paper umbrellas, strings, and feathers for creating "bodies" of falling objects. We also had washers and corks to add "weight" on the falling objects. In terms of tools, we had scissors and masking tape. I heard several people asking if we had hot glues. We would like to explore more what materials and tools are good for this activity.

I was somehow imagining this activity would be like our wind tubes activity. Just like the wind tubes, I expected the same amount of time people would spend for creating their objects. But actually, people spent longer time to create their own falling objects, compared to wind tubes (might be because of more materials). Some kids come back after their first drop test to make some modifications on their objects, and went back to the bucket and repeated the experiment a couple of times. It seemed that each time of the testing was more precious than wind tubes, just because the free fall activity requires the bucket device and a facilitator to execute their drop experiment.

This boy also did his experiments a couple of times changing the weight of the parachute.

It was really FUN to try out this new activity on the floor. As I wrote, there were definitely some things to be improved, but over all, there were a lot of joys, excitements, and experiments. To develop this activity further, we would like to continue trying other materials, shapes, environments (layout), and talking more about what it is that visitors get out from this activity. For our first time out, it went well.

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