Student inventors built a mini-golf course and scored big

Hole in one!

May 22, 2017

Everyone loves mini-golf. Mini-golf always reminds me a bit of a Rube Goldberg Machine. There must be moving parts, fun interactions, sound and light. When I sit back and reflect on it, littleBits works perfectly for a Rube Goldberg device. The idea of making mini-golf holes has been stewing in my brain for the past couple of months. Since I am a teacher, I had to make sure I could tie it in with my curriculum. And, my lightbulb moment appeared: the countdown to our chapter on electricity flashed in my mind.

When I introduced this idea to my students, I did it under the overarching contest called Junk Wars. Junk Wars is a competition I hold throughout the school year with my Physical Science students. The students work in teams to complete various challenges related to what we are studying in class. Each challenge is presented with the students only knowing the materials list, but not what they are making until the day they are to accomplish the challenge. The teams are scored on their finished products, and they build up points throughout the school year.

So while this was a Junk Wars challenge, I couldn’t keep it a secret the same way. The students got full access to the details of this challenge. The two parameters they needed for their custom mini-golf hole were pretty simple. First, it had to have a theme. Second, it needed to use littleBits that made it interactive in some aspect. Lastly, it must have some kind of ball return system. Once those details were addressed, the students were let loose to generate ideas.

The idea phase was essentially comprised in two parts. The first part was to generate a theme idea with a focus on what the ball would do in their course. The second part of the idea phase was to look at the different functions of the bits and think about how they incorporate them into their course. This such a fun part of the process. It is also important to stress that all ideas are useful, but not all ideas will be feasible. The group needs to be open for all to contribute. It essential for all students to evaluate, choose, plan, and execute their ideas.

And, knowing the skill and ability levels of your kids is key for getting my budding engineers to the next phase, which is building their course. Taking the time to go over the way each bit may seem boring, but there is a good chance you will have students in your group that need that help. They also need some everyday uses for the Bits or practice applications of what the bit could do on a course.

Once the students started building, I could really see things taking shape. The teams that thrived were able to divide their members with a focused task. A few of them had part of the team work on the littleBits circuit, while the other half worked to build the course frame. Cardboard was the key in constructing. It was light to move, easily to manipulate, and we had an abundance of materials.

The end goal of the project was to be able to display the courses at the Open House event at our school. Every year, prospective families visit the school, and we thought it would be awesome to showcase these projects at the event. It turned out to be a huge hit! Loads of parents and students had a blast trying out the various courses designed by the students.

Here are the courses that people had a chance to try out:

This course was designed with a basketball theme. It used a mini hoop, ramp, and steamboat style paddle wheel. littleBits were used to provide lights, and movement of the wheel. This mini-golf invention was probably the biggest hit!

This course had a skee-ball theme. The top hole of the course used a motion sensor to activate a servo flag. The flag shoots up for a successful 500 point shot.

This hockey themed course used many Bits. There were four little hockey players moving with servos. Also at the end was a hole with a bend sensor activating a buzzer and lights like a real hockey goal.

This zoo themed course was so much fun! It also used a motion sensor to activate lights as the ball passed to the goal.

This course was based on a music theme. The middle tunnel used a motion bit to detect the ball. The motion activated lights as the ball rolled to the hole.

This project turned out to be a huge success. It was great to see so many people enjoy the finished courses the students made. The kids learned about teamwork, circuits, and constructing. It was the perfect springboard to learning more about circuits in a collaborative environment. This will become a yearly project and I can’t wait to see what the kids will come up with next!


Ian Snyder, Educator
Northumberland Christian School