Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not-So-Simple Machines

For the final unit of the school year, we are exploring the fundamental principles of physics - motion and forces.  We did PowerPoint notes on the six types of simple machines, we explored wheels, pulleys and inclined planes in more detail with the K'Nex competition, and now it was time for a culminating project to wrap-up the unit. 

While brainstorming on what to plan for this project, I remembered an activity that we did when I was in elementary school - we read through old Rube Goldberg comics and created machines.  I immediately knew that this was exactly the silly and creative, yet scientific outlet for the students to show me what they understood about simple machines. 

I started at the official Rube Goldberg website and chose some comics that I thought captured the essence of the idea.  Knowing that this could get boring, I also selected some videos that I thought would capture their imaginations and show that Rube's machines were supposed to be overly-complex, but also silly and entertaining.  I chose an old Honda commercial called "The Cog" and the music video for OK Go's "This Too Shall Pass."
I started presenting the videos to the kids with little or no explanation about why we were watching.  Needless to say, at first the kids were a little antsy and wondering why they were watching "The Cog," but within seconds, they were identifying levers and inclined planes in the machine, and pretty soon, one could hear a pin drop...

Once the videos were finished, I explained to them who Rube Goldberg was and the basic premise of his comics - overly-complex machines designed to complete a simple task.  For the project, the students had to design their own overly-complex machine using at least one of each of the six simple machines.  They were immediately excited and brimming with ideas about what to create, but the period was almost over.  For homework, I had them brainstorm five ideas of simple tasks for which they could design a machine. 


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