October 11 marked the 19th anniversary of the Rube Goldberg night at Technology High School, and this year’s showcase of Rube Goldberg machines - machines intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overcomplicated fashion – did not disappoint.
The hallways of the school were crowded with 9th grade physics students displaying and explaining their machines to proud parents and friends, while demonstrating their knowledge of everything from simple machines, to kinetic and potential energy, to various other physics principals such as force and acceleration.
The event is named after Rube Goldberg, an early 20th century cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor from San Francisco. His series of cartoons depicting complicated gadgets that perform simple tasks in elaborate, complex ways made him famous, and since then science teachers across the country have relied on students making “Rube Goldberg machines” to teach various laws of physics in a fun, engaging way.
“I was in charge of doing most of the presentation work,” says Jadhira Gomez, about the project, “How to Make Tea” which she worked on with her teammates Ryan Perri and Katrina Zwinge. “In this unit we learned a lot about simple machines. We used five simple machines in our project – two levers, a pulley, a wedge, and a wheel and axle.”
“We started with a rough plan and then we worked on it and improved the design,” says Ryan Perri, explaining how they incorporated the different simple machines to end with the final task of a teabag being dunked into a cup. “I think the most difficult part about this is trying to get it all together with each piece working, but it was fun to do.”
The students’ projects are graded not only on how well they work, but how the students demonstrate their knowledge of the various physics’ principals. Fourteen parent judges also scored the projects with prize certificates given to the first, second and third place teams.
“Students are graded on how well they can explain the physics, the simple machines, and whether or not they incorporated five simple machines and ten steps,” says Greg Weaver, 9th Grade Science and Engineering teacher and co-organizer of the event. “They are graded on how well they explain what simple machines are and how they work. They should talk about kinetic energy, potential energy, work, force, distance, why we use simple machines, and how they benefit us. We also look at whether or not the thing works, and how it looks.”
Amid resounding cheers and applause, the winners were announced towards the end of the evening. The first place winning team, composed of Evan Hermes, Kirra Tran, and Ni’ke Smith, created a colorful display titled “Surf’s Up” whose simple machines resulted in turning off an alarm clock.
“Trying things and then having to redo them was actually kind of fun,” says Kirra Tran. We used a lot of trial and error. In our machine we used a pulley, incline plane, wedge, lever, and wheel and axle.”
“I would love to commend the students for the amount of work they put into these projects – before school, after school, and during lunch,” says Dawn Mawhinney, Principal of Tech High. “And I’d like to commend Mr. Weaver who has not had a night off the last two weeks!”