Teamwork Makes Their Machines Run

Dings, clangs, bangs and pops. These were the sounds that emanated from inventive Rube Goldberg machines that eighth graders recently built as a culmination of their physics unit.
The eponymous machine is a pop culture staple due to its entertaining ingenuity: every Rube Goldberg machine uses complex chain reactions with the goal of performing a simple task. To get students excited for the project, science teacher Morghan Lewis showed them the band OK Go’s music video for the song “This Too Shall Pass,” which takes viewers along for the operation of a particularly elaborate Rube Goldberg machine. 

In a departure from previous years, when students worked independently or in small groups to create machines, Lewis had each class work on one large design. “This year, I split each class into four groups, and each group worked on a portion of the project,” Lewis said. “After all the groups were done, we put together the portions to make one big machine.”

The results would have made cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg proud. 

Jim Fabian explained that his class’ creation culminated in a lever pressing the “Enter” button on a computer, which then sent an email. The students implemented “an elaborate set of pulleys, ramps, and levers” to get the machine to complete the task. “It was quite fun to think of creative ways to do mundane things,” Fabian reflected. 

Theo Silverman, who worked with fellow students on a contraption that would crack an egg on the floor, shared a similar sentiment: “We were trying to do something unique and different while also giving ourselves a challenge. We enjoyed using our brains and teamwork to come up with great ideas.”

Funnels, ramps, dominoes, marbles, toy cars and other accouterments from classic childhood games were the building blocks that Mia Steinwurtzel’s group used for a machine that rang a bell in Doc Wilson Hall. Steinwurtzel appreciated the trial and error process that the class went through to get to the final product, sharing that “You can always learn from your mistakes, and if something goes wrong, you can always try again.”

For Lewis, “the level of collaboration and creativity” was a highlight of the assignment. “The students come up with some amazing designs, and they all have to work together to make their project work.”

Now that they’ve ended their physics unit with a bang — literally — eighth graders are setting their sights on the stars as they dive into a unit on astronomy.