Physics and Astronomy

Dante's Peek

To experience a group problem-solving situation with limited time and information.
To test skills in communicating specific objectives and instructions to others.
To explore roles in organizing a project development team.
To produce a specific product in competition with other project teams.
To recognize the importance of flexibility in responding to unexpected conditions.

Purpose Build a K'nex model without complete instructions.
Participants Teams of up to six.
Materials One box of K'nex for each team.
Instructions This event is a little unusual, because it is not based on material in the school science curriculum. The activity is based on some of the work being done in large companies who wish to increase the skills of their employees in the whole area of team skills and problem solving. These and similar exercises are metaphors for the kind of problems that people have to face daily in their jobs. We hope that you will help identify parallels between the problems we set for you here, and the issues you have to deal with in school.

Take turns with each member of the group building a K'nex model and playing ‘Dante' with the group to see if they can build it from identical components within a set time. Remember, Dante can't help with building and the others can't see the design.. Start with simple models and work up to those with more parts. The actual model in the competition will be pretty difficult.

Try assigning different roles to group members, or assigning people to work on different sections. Decide who is best suited to each role. Hint: Find the best ways of describing how to build with this system.

Try to think up some unexpected conditions that might happen in a real scenario. The competition will have a few surprises. Warning: the judges have evil imaginations.

The Flight of the Phoenix an old movie starring James Stewart.
Creating a book by Robert Fritz


Your research team has been conducting an aerial survey of an active volcano and has crashed into the side of the mountain. You must reconstruct your aircraft from the parts in the crash (which, although completely dismantled, have miraculously not broken). The mountain is expected to erupt in 40 minutes.

It so happens that one member of your team, Dante, is the designer of the aircraft but has amnesia from injuries in the crash, which include paralyzed arms. Dante has 15-second ‘flash-back' visions of the completed design (a finished model in another room). Without making any notes, Dante must explain the design to the other team members. Dante can go back for as many of these peeks as desired but must return to the group each time, and must take turns with the Dantes from other teams.

Judging Teams will be evaluated according to the completeness of their models (percentage of parts in the right places) when time runs out. If more than one team completes the model, the order of finishing will determine the winner.
Source London District Science Olympics. This event was created by Richard Hammond and Matthew Lynall.

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