Solving the Puzzle of the Ferris Wheel

Oh, my! What have we been doing in the lab? This was one of our favorite challenges last spring and in some summer school classes! 

It's Ferris wheels! Do you remember the first time you rode a Ferris Wheel? I do! It was at an Oktober Fest in Germany and the Ferris Wheel passenger cars were quite large and round (like the ones in the photo below). The center pole in the passenger car had a wheel on it and you could turn that wheel to make the passenger car travel around and around. Just think about how dizzy this would make you as you swirl around in a circle while going around in a circle!

This little challenge is part of a trio of challenges that are all about summer vacation theme park rides- Ferris Wheels, Roller Coasters, and Water Slides. These are perfect for summer or the month of August as kids head back to school! They are also perfect for any time of the year!

This post features the magnificent Ferris Wheel!
STEM Challenge; kids build a Ferris Wheel using craft sticks! This challenging STEM project is the most fun as kids tackle creating two symmetrical sides and connecting them to still allow turning. #STEM  #Ferriswheel

History of the Ferris Wheel 

First, of all, do you know why Ferris wheel must be capitalized? It's named after the inventor Mr. Ferris!

This happened in 1893 when the director of the Chicago World's Fair wanted a gigantic, unique, and amazing structure to rival the Eiffel Tower which had been the feature at the previous World's Fair in Paris. The director challenged a group of engineers to design something bigger and better and Mr. Ferris came up with the Ferris wheel. His structure was 250+ feet tall with 60 passenger cars. People paid fifty cents to ride the Ferris wheel which meant about a two revolution ride that took 20 minutes. Sadly, that original Ferris wheel was destroyed a few years later.

After we learned all this trivia about the first Ferris wheel my students were ready to build models.
Only they didn't have steel beams. They had craft sticks and glue.

HELPFUL HINT: If you try this project you are going to need craft sticks! Don't be fooled by the dollar store variety- get the giant box- like this one:

They last forever, can be reused, and are much more economical than the dollar store packages!

The Geometry of the Wheel

Below you can see a step-by-step set of photos. This shows the way kids created triangles and then a hexagon to make each side of the wheel. Next, they had to build a frame and join their two sides. We had some fabulous models.
STEM Challenge; kids build a Ferris Wheel using craft sticks! This challenging STEM project is the most fun as kids tackle creating two symmetrical sides and connecting them to still allow turning. #STEM  #Ferriswheel

We had to work through making a hexagonal shape and then joining the two sides together. It was also really important that the two sides were symmetrical and joined properly. Otherwise, you ended up with a wonky wheel that would not turn. This happened a lot! But, one of the things I love about STEM is that kids make mistakes and then try something else. When their misshapen wheels were not turning they took the whole structure apart and were more diligent about laying those craft sticks in a good arrangement- but with each side matching. It was like the ultimate jigsaw puzzle!


We also made a few mistakes!

Matching the two sides of the wheel proved to be challenging!
STEM Challenge: This task required using symmetry and matching the sides of the wheel. Groups that didn't line things  up correctly had wheels with sides that warped and this kept the wheel from turning! What a great learning experience!

Yep, I'm going to say that the above group didn't quite match up their wheel sides correctly.

That Tricky Axle

Another big thing that kept happening is that an axle had to go through the wheel. This meant the kids had to leave an opening! Some groups paid no attention to this minor detail and ended up with the center of their wheels being a stack of craft sticks, but no place to thread the axle. And, yes, they took that apart and started over. This was a fabulous challenge for persistence! In the photo below you can see a center area that worked perfectly. However, that wheel still has a mistake!

STEM Challenge; kids build a Ferris Wheel using craft sticks! This challenging STEM project is the most fun as kids tackle creating two symmetrical sides and connecting them to still allow turning. #STEM  #Ferriswheel

Some of our mistakes were really interesting. Look closely at the photo above.
Can you spot the mistake?

It's not a hexagon. That Ferris wheel has SEVEN sides! But, y'all, look at it. It's pretty perfectly matched and it did work very well! How on earth did that team make a seven-sided shape? Do you know how hard that is to do on purpose?


Major Problem Solving


STEM Challenge; kids build a Ferris Wheel using craft sticks! This challenging STEM project is the most fun as kids tackle creating two symmetrical sides and connecting them to still allow turning. #STEM  #Ferriswheel

This was an exciting STEM challenge!

Even though the Ferris wheels all looked very similar when finished it was still unique to each group. They all approached the task differently. Some matched the wheel sides by laying them on top of each other. Some actually measured. Some just eyeballed it and hoped it worked.

This was definitely a trial and error challenge. Thank goodness hot glued craft sticks can easily be pulled apart!


STEM Challenge; kids build a Ferris Wheel using craft sticks! This challenging STEM project is the most fun as kids tackle creating two symmetrical sides and connecting them to still allow turning. #STEM  #Ferriswheel





4 comments

  1. Wow, my son tried this and he got it right on the first try but instead of 6 sides he did 10!!! I'm so very proud, and I love this project! X) :D :)

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  2. Ferris is a person's last name and therefore a proper noun. Ferris wheel is the name of a thing and therefore not a proper noun. If the ferris wheel were called Ferris' wheel then I can understand capitalizing the f.

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  3. I want to get them to make it spin using a rubber band??? anyone do that?

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Julie, I have never seen that technique used with our Ferris wheels, but it sounds like it would work. If you have older students I think they could do this! Thanks for visiting my blog!

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