Could you knock down a building using only dominoes?
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Could you knock down a building using only dominoes?
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DISCUSS:

When you set up a domino, you’re putting part of it up high. Can you think of any other situation where putting something ‘up high’ causes something special to happen?

Hint...

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DISCUSS (1 of 2):

Can a domino knock down one that’s just slightly bigger than itself?

Try doing this yourself if you can. You can use books if you don’t have dominoes. Or you can go to the next slide to see a video of us doing it.

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HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED:

It worked! A domino has just enough energy to knock down a domino that’s slightly bigger than itself. Now that you know this, go to the next slide.

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DISCUSS (2 of 2):

CHALLENGE: Do you think there could be a way to knock down something REALLY big, like a domino as tall as a building, using only smaller dominoes?

Draw a picture if you can think of an idea.

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DISCUSS:

In terms of energy, why is it possible to use something the size of a brick to knock down something the size of a small house?

Can you explain this? Make a drawing if it’s helpful.

Think about: Where is there stored energy? Where does the stored energy come from?

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DISCUSS:

Why do you think scientists call falling dominoes a “chain reaction”?

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Optional Extras

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity and exploration you just completed.
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Watch and Discuss

La Macchina Botanica (The Botanical Machine) starts when a ball rolls down a ramp and ends by watering a plant. Watch the video for fun. Then watch it again, looking for places that energy is stored. Can you identify where energy is stored and how energy is transferred from one object to another.

Some questions to talk about:

  • What makes a pendulum swing?
  • Can you find any levers that aren’t horizontal?
  • Does this give you any ideas for a chain reaction you could make on a bulletin board?
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Ideas from Experts

Looking at the chain reactions that other people have built will give you ideas for your own chain reaction. There are many chain reactions online. Here are some of our favorites.

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Activity: Herringbone Chains

If you don’t have dominoes but you want to make a long contraption that will fall down in an interesting way, you’re in luck. All you need to make a herringbone chain is popsicle or craft sticks and paper cups.

This 7-minute video from Kinetic King Tim Fort tells you everything you need to know.

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Overview
Grade 4th
Topic Energy, Motion, & Electricity
Focus Energy & Engineering
Print
Activity Prep

In this Mystery, students construct an explanation of how energy is stored, released, and transferred in chain reactions, such as falling dominoes. In the activity, Build a Chain Reaction (Part I), students are presented with an engineering design challenge to create their own chain reaction machine--a project they will continue in Mystery 5. Students experiment with a “Chain-Reaction Starter Kit.” This kit includes a lever and a ramp, which serve as the first two steps of a chain-reaction machine.

Preview activity

Number of students:
Markers
Must be at least 1/2" in diameter because it will serve as the fulcrum of a lever.
Details
30 markers
Rulers
30 rulers
Scissors
30 pairs
Dixie Cups (3 oz)
30 cups
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom. Or pieces of tape.
Details
90 labels
Paper Clips
30 clips
Paper Cups (8 oz)
Cup cannot be more than 4" tall.
Details
30 cups
Rubber Bands (#32)
30 bands
Small Marbles
1/2" marbles will also work.
Details
30 marbles
Chain-Reaction Starter Kit printout Print 30 copies
Marble Corral printout Print 30 copies
Prep Instructions

We recommend that students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need a partner to help with some steps.

Plan Ahead

We strongly recommend pairing this mystery with Mystery 5, “Can you build a chain reaction machine?” If you plan to do Mystery 5, don’t throw away the ramps that your students build in this Mystery. Students will use these ramps when creating their very own chain reaction machine.


Classroom Management Tip

Marbles are very fun, but can be very distracting! We suggest waiting to distribute marbles to students until Step 17 of the activity.

Overview
Grade 4th
Topic Energy, Motion, & Electricity
Focus Energy & Engineering
Download this Mystery to your device so you can play it offline: