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Can you pack a snack so that it makes it through the post in one piece?
Year groups: Year 7-11 (11-16)
To design and engineer a package with the smallest volume and mass to protect a uniformly shaped crisp or other snack so that it survives a journey through the UK postal service, and arrives at its destination undamaged.
Save Our Snacks
Download student activity sheet [pdf]
Save Our Snacks survival scores
Save Our Snacks record sheet
Legend has it that the potato crisp was ‘invented’ in 1853 in the United States by a Native American chef called George Crum. The railway magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt was eating at the restaurant where Crum worked. Vanderbilt, a notoriously fastidious customer, repeatedly sent his potato chips back to the kitchen, complaining that they were cut too thickly. The exasperated Crum eventually cut the potato into wafer-thin slices, frying them in oil until they were crispy. Vanderbilt enjoyed them, and the crisp was born.
Crisps did not appear in Britain until the 1910s, and were not manufactured on any scale until Frank Smith started to make them in a London garage in 1920. Today they are Britain’s most popular snack.
Shaped potato crisps, 1998.
The message on this poster from the 1940s is as important to this activity as it was then!
British Rail Poster, 1946-1965.
Trains have been used to deliver mail since the rise of the railways in the early 1800s. For many years letters and packages were sorted aboard ‘travelling post offices’ before being dropped off at stations to be delivered.
Sorting mail on the travelling post office between Newcastle and London St Pancras, 1987.
Fragile objects, such as this clay piping, have to be packaged carefully before being transported. Here the pipes are being wrapped tightly in straw, then packed tightly together in the delivery van to minimise breakages.
Delivery van, 1933.
Throughout the activity students have to make choices based on their prior experience of the various materials on offer and by testing prototypes made with them. There is a balance to be struck between producing the most protective package and making it as small and light as possible. If students go to either extreme they will lose the challenge, so each group will have to decide how far to focus on each consideration.
The snacks are brittle and cannot flex without breaking, so the challenge is to produce a structure that will absorb or redirect any external forces that are applied in transit. Clever design will allow light materials to become strong so that they can spread the stress from a crushing force along their whole structure and away from the snack. Materials that absorb and spread the energy from a sharp impact, e.g. cotton wool, polystyrene and shredded paper, will help to cushion the snack.
These resources support integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths activities in STEM clubs. Here are some specific links:
Testing, investigating and hypothesising outcomes.
Creating packaging introduces basic engineering skills and the notion that engineers may face a ‘trade-off’ of protection versus mass. The same is true of the engineering of racing cars and spacecraft.
Measuring, weighing and working out the volume and overall score. This is especially challenging if your students choose to produce round or irregularly shaped packages.
This resource has been developed specifically for use within Key Stage 3 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) clubs to provide enrichment and extension of the curriculum. However it may also be used for teaching elements of the curriculum at KS3 and KS4 in an engaging, inspiring and memorable way.
1.1. Designing and making b. Applying knowledge of materials and production processes to design products and produce practical solutions that are relevant and fit for purpose. 1.3. Creativityc. Exploring and experimenting with ideas, materials, technologies and techniques. 2. Key processesc. Apply their knowledge and understanding of a range of materials, ingredients and technologies to design and make their products. 3. Range and contentk. The behaviour of structural elements in a variety of materials. 4. Curriculum opportunitiesd. Work individually and in teams, taking on different roles and responsibilities.
1.1. Competence a. Applying suitable mathematics accurately within the classroom and beyond. 1.3. Applications and implications of mathematicsb. Understanding that mathematics is used as a tool in a wide variety of contexts. d. Engaging in mathematics is an interesting and worthwhile activity. 2.2. Analysingl. Calculate accurately, selecting mental methods or calculating devices as appropriate. m. Manipulate numbers, algebraic expressions and equations and apply routing algorithms. 3.2. Geometry and measuresg. Units, compound measures and conversions. h. Perimeters, areas, surface areas and volumes. 4. Curriculum opportunitiesd. Work on problems that arise in other subjects and in contexts beyond the school. f. Work collaboratively as well as independently in a range of contexts.
1.2. Competencea. Applying suitable mathematics accurately within the classroom and beyond. 1.3. Applications and implications of mathematicsb. Understanding that mathematics is used as a tool in a wide variety of contexts. d. Engaging in mathematics is an interesting and worthwhile activity. 2.2. Analysingl. Calculate accurately, selecting mental methods or calculating devices as appropriate. m. Manipulate numbers, algebraic expressions and equations and apply routing algorithms. 3.2. Geometry and measuresg. Conversion between measures and compound measures. 4. Curriculum opportunitiesd. Work on problems that arise in other subjects and in contexts beyond the school. f. Work collaboratively as well as independently in a range of contexts.
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