Education

Rube Goldberg projects spread STEM interest at Dos Palos middle school

Rube Goldberg devices on display in Dos Palos

As a math intervention teacher at Bryant Middle School, Shannon Mauras knew that projects rooted in the science, technology, math and science could help her students gain a greater interest. She remembered a project she completed in eighth grade
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As a math intervention teacher at Bryant Middle School, Shannon Mauras knew that projects rooted in the science, technology, math and science could help her students gain a greater interest. She remembered a project she completed in eighth grade

As a math intervention teacher at Bryant Middle School, Shannon Mauras knew that projects rooted in the science, technology, math and science could help her students gain a greater interest.

She remembered a project she completed in eighth grade that elicited loads of creativity: a Rube Goldberg machine.

A Rube Goldberg device is one that uses a series of kinetic and sometimes complicated parts and methods to solve a simple problem or task.

So she introduced the project to her classes. And they have loved it.

“My favorite part was just getting it to work,” said 13-year-old eighth grader Amanda Garcia, who worked with classmates and went through more than a dozen trial runs to build and tweak their machine.

Over the past two weeks, Mauras’ sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students have been learning about and building Rube Goldberg machines. The task was to make a complicated contraption that traps a small toy alien.

Amanda’s group made a machine that starts with spoon-stopper that releases a ball down a padded chute, guided by disposable plates before dropping on a Popsicle stick to drop the alien into a cup.

Rube Goldberg projects built by students use dominoes, levers, winding pathways and other unique methods to guide a marble ball that activates parts of the machine.

“The goal is to show them that math can be fun,” said Mauras.

Mauras said she contacted her own eighth-grade teacher, now a college professor, who sent her a packet and guidelines on the project. Before the students started building their machines, they needed to learn about the project’s namesake, Rube Goldberg, and the history behind the cartoonist and engineer.

Mauras said the students have been enthused with the project, trying to figure out their own ways to build a machine after Mauras showed them examples of popular Rube Goldberg projects, taught them about different materials and mechanical techniques they can use and went over the engineering design process.

“You usually never hear the students asking for rulers,” Mauras said, noting that students have been using math over the course of the project in the form of logic, supplies, and measurements.

The project also taught students to try and try again.

“I’ve gotten discouraged,” said 11-year-old sixth grader Justin Mumby as he was brainstorming ways to make his group’s project work. “But I like to build all this stuff to just trap an alien.”

On Tuesday, the groups will present their project to their classes, Mauras said. Students who enjoyed the project said the end of the project in class won’t halt their interest in building other contraptions. And some had words of wisdom from their own experience.

“My advice, is to try your best,” Justin said.

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