2017 READesign with FMBGC – Part 1: The Bad Beginning

The READesign program was introduced in the Wood Buffalo region at the Fort McMurray Boys and Girls Club (FMBGC). This program is based on the Novel Engineering program by Tuft’s University Center for Engineering Education Outreach and was sponsored by the Canadian Red Cross, the APEGA Education Foundation and the Alberta Women’s Science Network (AWSN).

This session ran for 4 weeks from March 18th to April 8th and hosted a total of 10 students aged 12-15, four girls and six boys. The students were tasked to read a book, identify the problems the characters in the book encounter, and use engineering design to come up with solutions to those problems. The students had the choice of two book options; A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket and Daisy Dawson on the Farm by Steve Voake.

This post is about The Bad Beginning. To see the blog post summarizing Daisy Dawson on the Farm see Part 2.

In the Bad Beginning, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are recently orphaned and forced to live with their horrible new guardian, Count Olaf. As the book title suggests, this leads to a series of unfortunate events for the siblings.

 Problem #1

In chapter 1, the Baudelaire children are at the beach and Violet is skipping a rock on the water.

Engineering Challenge: Design a device to retrieve a rock after it has been skipped.

Constraint: The device must retrieve the rock from a minimum of 2 feet away from the water (mini pool).

Materials: Craft materials, K’Nex Levers and Pulleys, K’Nex Gears, Magnets

Solution #1: One group of students designed extended arm made from paper towel rolls and cups to scoop the rock out of the water.


  • The paper towel rolls got damaged by soaking in water. Redesign: Plastic wrap and duct tape was added to make it waterproof. Triangle supports were added to the arm.
  • The cup was collecting a lot of water.  Redesign: Holes were poked in the bottom for the water to drain out after the rock was collected.

Solution #2: A fishing pole type device with a cp attached to the end was designed to scoop up the rock.


  • The cup kept floating on top so tried to used rocks as weights to sink it. Re-design: A magnet was attached to the rock before it was skipped and a second magnet was attached to the ‘fishing pole’ mechanism made from K’Nex pulleys and gears.


Problem #2

In chapter 5, the Baudelaire children are forced to chop wood by the mean Count Olaf

Challenge: Design an easier way to chop wood.

Constraint: Must chop through marshmallows

Materials: Craft materials, K’Nex rollercoaster, K’Nex gears, LittleBits Steam Student Set

Solution #1: The Students used the LittleBits servo attachment to create a chopping arm.


  • The edge was not sharp enough to cut through the marshmallows, craft materials were used to make a sharper edge and to design a knife blade

Solution #2: Another group of students used K’Nex Gears and Motors to make a chainsaw


  • The marshmallow would not stay in place. Future redesign could be to add a marshmallow holding device to make it easier to cut


Problem #3

In chapter 8, Violet and Klaus discover that baby Sunny has disappeared and has been kidnapped for ransom by the evil Count Olaf.

Challenge: Design an alarm system to alert Violet and Klaus when someone tries to take baby Sunny.

Materials: Craft materials, Little Bits

Solution #1: Door to Sunny’s crib is attached to the switch for an electrical circuit that sounds a buzzer when the crib is opened.


  • Switch is not triggered each time because the string is too loose. Redesign: Measure the correct distance and length of string to ensue there is enough tension to flip the switch

Solution #2: Use little bits transmitter and receiver to sound an alarm in a different room when Sunny is removed from her crib.


  • Buzzer continues to sound when the weight of baby Sunny in the crib is placed on a button. Redesign: An ‘inverter bit’ is used so that when the button is not pressed the buzzer sounds.

Problem #4

At the end of the book, baby Sunny is trapped in a hanging cage and Violet and Klaus have to figure out a way to rescue her. 

Challenge: Design a contraption to get Sunny out of the hanging cage.

Constraint: Must get Sunny from 2 ft above the ground.

Materials: K’nex, craft materials

Solution #1: Grappling hook to hook onto the cage and climb up the rope to save Sunny.


  • Students noticed that it would be too difficult to climb up a rope. Redesign: Ladder rungs were added to the rope to make it easier to climb up\

Solution #2: A pulley system/elevator to get up to Sunny and remove her from the cage.


  • Students pondered whether baby Sunny could fall while trying to remove her from the cage. Redesign: A landing pad was made from soft materials for Sunny to land on.


See Part 2 for more READesign in Daisy Dawson on the Farm!

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