Simple and Rube Goldberg Machines: A Maker Education, STEAM Lesson

Recently I facilitated a simple-machines-leading-into-Rube-Goldberg-machines lesson with my gifted elementary students.

As I’ve discussed in past blog posts, I use several criteria to guide my lesson design:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for learners.
  • There is a game-like atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up, and a sense of mastery or achievement during the instructional activities.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another.
  • Learners don’t need to be graded about their performances as built-in consequences are natural.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.
  • Lessons are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.
  • Lessons are designed to get learners interested in and excited about a broad  array of topics especially in the areas of science, engineering, math, language arts, and the arts.

The lesson activities and sequence went as follows . . .

Simple Machines

  • As a group, learners watched the following video and reviewed the following webpage on the Smartboard:
  • Via their own Chromebooks, they played the following online game: http://www.msichicago.org/play/simplemachines/
  • They used their Chromebooks to go on a scavenger hunt both inside and outside of the school to take photos of example simple machines.

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  • To conclude the simple machines component, learners were taught about Haikus and asked to write Haikus about simple machines to be posted on their Kidblogs.

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Rube Goldberg Machines

  • Learners were shown several Rube Goldberg machines posted on Youtube.

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  • Learners were given a worksheet that contained several examples of Rube Goldberg Machines and asked to sketch their own cartoon versions.

  • Finally, they were given the task to create their own Rube Goldberg machines:
    • For inspiration, they were shown the following web resources –
    • They were split into teams and given lots of materials (dominoes, hot wheels, hot wheel tracks, playing cards, assorted cardboard pieces. balls, tape).
    • They were told that they needed to have their creations end with doing a simple task as is characteristic of Rube Goldberg machines.
    • Finally, they were told that their creations would go into a display in the school’s center hall.

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What are the characteristics of high performing schools?

I am in the unique position of having several types of education jobs. I teach online graduate courses in educational technology to in-service teachers. I am a cohort facilitator for student teachers; and I am a part-time gifted teacher of elementary students at two different elementary schools that serve Kindergarten through 6th grade students. Out of the 16 elementary schools in my town, these two schools have some of the lowest end-of-year standardized test scores in the entire district; are composed of 85% to 90% Hispanic students; have a high percentage of English Language Learners; and all students on free or reduced lunch. These statistics present a dire picture, don’t they?

I tell my student teachers that when they enter new schools for possible employment, they should be able to see and feel the culture of the school almost immediately upon entering the front doors. Because of this belief, I decided to do a photo essay of the artifacts found on the hallway walls at the schools where I teach:

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Because of the variety of my jobs as well as being an active reader and contributor to social media, I do a lot of thinking and reading about the qualities of high performing schools. Again, the data shows that I work at very low performing schools, but how are intangibles measured? How are the following characteristics, which I see, hear, and feel at both of my schools, measured and quantified?

  • A positive school climate
  • A safe school climate
  • Dedicated teachers who love teaching and their students
  • Creative teachers
  • Students enjoyment of being at school and in learning
  • Student creativity and imagination
  • Lots of laughing and smiling students
  • The arts naturally integrated into content area learning
  • School walls filled with beautiful student artifacts

I wholeheartedly believe I am teaching in high performing schools.