This is a quick engineering and fabrication lesson about the malleability of metal and how metals can become “work hardened” by repeated bending. Some metals, like steel, can be hardened with heat and rapid cooling while others, like copper, can only be hardened by hammering or bending. This activity requires only paperclips, but if you have access to copper or aluminum wire, you can have students try those as well.
The purpose of these Make It! activities is to expose students to information and techniques that will aid them in fabricating their engineering concepts. I found that my own students’ ability to conceive of engineering solutions surpassed their ability to build them. The point of these short activities is to help build a skill set and understanding of materials and methods useful in engineering solutions.
I have listed this activity at 30 minutes because that is the shortest length shown, but in reality, you could complete this activity in 10 or 15 minutes with just the paperclips. If you add the other materials, it would take you a few more minutes. This activity could be extended by having students write about the benefits and drawbacks associated with the malleability and hardening of metals. They could also compare the number of bends necessary to break each metal or to break wires of differing thicknesses.