Each spring for the past dozen years, Hayes Intermediate sixth-grade science teacher Matt Morgan has assigned his students a project that leaves them walking on egg shells as they try to figure out how to successfully complete the challenge.
Actually, what they're trying to avoid is walking on egg shells.
Morgan's project is an egg-drop challenge, where students form teams to design a device that will protect a raw egg from a fall from a great height.
"It's a fun way they can put the scientific methods they've been learning into practice," Morgan said.
The teacher mostly leaves the students to their own devices as they design their container, but he said he does offer them one hint.
"I'll write on the board the formula 'force equals mass times acceleration,' " he said.
What he wants students to realize is that a smaller contraption likely will work better than a larger one.
"It may seem counter-intuitive to some of them, because you might think that the bigger mass you have around the egg, the more it will be protected," Morgan said.
But what most students begin to understand as they do their research, work on designs and test their egg protector is that the larger an object, the faster it will fall, he said.
The project involves some rules, Morgan said.
"You can't use a parachute or a glider, and it can't be wind-aided," he said. "The egg can't be covered with anything."
Students are graded on a scale of 30 points, Morgan said. They are evaluated for their research, design and development, testing and the performance of their contraption when it's dropped.
"The performance counts for up to five points, so it's not a killer if your egg breaks," he said.
Five points can be earned if the egg survives the fall without even one small crack, Morgan said.
One of the most valuable aspects of the egg drop project is that students work in teams, he said.
"They're learning collaboration, compromise and that sometimes someone might have a different way of looking at things that might help the end product," Morgan said.
The first round of the egg drop was held May 14 with students dropping their egg-filled contraptions from Hayes' roof, a height of about 30 feet. Out of 38 contraptions, 21 of them worked and left no crack in the eggs.
"If their egg survives without a crack, they can go on to the big test," Morgan said.
That was held May 17, when the Jackson Township Fire Department brought one of its ladder trucks to the school.
Firefighters dropped students' contraptions from a height of about 70 feet.
The eggs in 12 contraptions were unscathed when dropped from the ladder truck.
Tristan Henson and Elias Ewing designed a contraption that involved removing the cardboard from the center of a toilet paper roll and placing straws and bubble wrap around the toilet paper.
"It was fun to collaborate and come up with an idea together," Tristan said.
"Tristan came up with the straw idea and I thought of the toilet paper roll," Elias said. "So we just combined the two and came up with a good contraption."
Their egg didn't crack when it was dropped from the roof of the school.
"We were a little nervous watching it fall," Tristan said.
The life of their egg flashed before his eyes as it fell, Elias said.
"We were pretty sure it would work because on our last test, we dropped it from my bedroom window, and it was OK," he said.
The egg did not survive when it was dropped from the ladder truck.
"It was disappointing, but we still had a lot of fun with this project, and that's what's important," Elias said.
"I didn't think it was going to survive," Tristan said. "Seventy feet is a long way down."
Olivia Morrison and Mia Bumgarner had success May 17. Their egg survived the fall quite nicely, encased in a hollowed-out foam basketball.
"We took out the foam and put the egg in and surrounded it with fluff from a pillow," Mia said.
"I guess foam plus fluff equals a safe egg," Olivia said.
The pair tried a few ideas out, including protecting the egg with popcorn, before arriving at their final effort.
"I think using material that didn't weigh much really helped," Mia said.
Olivia said she was surprised their egg didn't break when the firefighters dropped it.
"All the way down, I thought for sure it was going to crack wide open," she said.
"Especially when the ball bounced when it hit the ground. I thought the egg was gone for sure," Mia said.
When they opened the foam ball and found an intact egg, "I was really happy. I felt accomplished," she said.