The fall, two classes at Shoreline Christian School in Shoreline, Washington, spent nearly three weeks planning, building, and testing Rube Goldberg machines. The 8th grade science and 9th grade physical science classes each created a machine and then set them in motion, competing for bragging rights (and a science movie day).
Both classes are taught by Emily Huston, and both classes study work, energy, and machines at the beginning of the year, although at different levels. For the past five years, Huston has used Rube Goldberg machines to teach these concepts. “We start the planning process with each student developing five steps and making blueprints of their designs,” she said. “Then the class assembles these ideas into a complete machine, which must use at least one step from each student. The assembly is a group effort. The entire machine must be at least 15 cause-and-effect steps long. The class votes on how to end the machine and determines what would be a logical first step to start the reaction, as this is the only time they are allowed to interact with the machine.”
Through the process, students learn scientific concepts such as transfer of energy, machine efficiency, conservation of energy, and forms of energy. “Many times the initial designs students submit need to be changed, because they see firsthand that energy will be lost and not transferred effectively,” said Huston.
The school’s mission is to nurture students in faith, knowledge, and maturity, helping them to serve God and others to the best of their ability by bringing out their talents and skills. “Students also learn a LOT about working in groups, conflict resolution, problem solving, communication, and troubleshooting. I get to see a variety of strengths from my students, and I love seeing how much they can accomplish together.”
The machines were set off at the school’s November open house, and for the first time both teams achieved perfect runs. Videos of the two machines were posted on the school’s Facebook page for voting, and in a very close decision, the eighth grade class won.
“When we learn about the concepts leading up to this project, we talk about how amazing it is that Creation was so perfectly designed, and how everything works in perfect order,” said Huston. “Many students like physical science because it is so orderly. We discuss where this order came from, and how things would be different if the laws of physics were changed.”