Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rube Goldberg Machines - Take 2

It's time once again for Rube Goldberg Machines! Last year, I posted about my class' experience leading up to and during this activity. This year, I only gave students one day of lead time (we were working on a large project up until two days before this activity, and I didn't want to distract from that). They were excited and curious, and spent approximately 20 minutes making lists of things that could help them solve an unknown design challenge. I also gave them the opportunity to request items from me, but only if they got their requests in ahead of knowing what the challenge entailed.

To start the day of the challenge off, I showed my students the OK Go video, This Too Shall Pass. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend taking 4 minutes right now to do so. I'll wait...





Amazing, right? This was the visual prompt I used to set my students up to create very interesting constructions. They had brought in a wide variety of items once again. Along with the basic items I provided to them (paper, tape, a tack, a marble, paper clips, clothespins, yarn, straws, a paper plate and a balloon) groups had brought in :

  • duct tape
  • nail scissors
  • glue guns
  • a canvas lawn chair
  • empty water bottles
  • a plastic bucket
  • a pillow
  • giant sponges
  • locker mirrors
  • skipping rope
  • tin foil
As they began to work with their groups, I circulated around the classroom, listening in on conversations. I consider it a mark of enormous success that students did not ask me what they should try, but instead jumped straight into collaborating with their group members to make a plan.

Taking stock

Beginning to plan

Group 1 : Materials

Group 2 : Materials

Group 3 : Materials
As students planned, I listened. Here are some of the comments I overheard :

"Let's start by putting all the things that could pop the balloon in a pile."

"Ok, now try that way. Make a little dent in it."

"If we put the ball here instead of there, the ruler would have enough energy to move the sponge."

"We should put the tack on a string, and then it could swing and pop the balloon."

"We should start at the end of our machine - how will be pop it?"

"I'm not really sure if this is going to work, but it's a start."

"It can't go slow, or else it won't move the potato masher!"

Although none of the groups managed to pop their balloon, they had a lot of fun trying. At the end of the period, after they had all tried their machines, I took a moment to read them the list of comments I had overheard, and to underline the importance of perseverance. All of the groups had ideas for how they could have improved on their design, even though they knew they were not going to have a second chance.

The amount of learning that went on in those two hours that they were working collaboratively to solve a problem was phenomenal! It gave me a renewed sense of just how important it is to give students the freedom to try, fail, and try again.