ANYTHING BUT SIMPLE: STEM students build Rube Goldberg machines – The Daily Reporter

Fifth graders Xzavier Litteral and Raley Greggs work on their computer coding skills by programming a robot in their STEM class at Greenfield Intermediate School on Tuesday. Shelley Swift | Daily reporter

GREENFIELD — While most teachers show their students how to simplify problems, Amy Fletcher enjoys teaching her students how to complicate the simplest tasks.

The Greenfield-Central Intermediate School STEM instructor recently taught his sixth-grade students a unit on Rube Goldberg, an American inventor and engineer who rose to fame by making cartoons of complicated gadgets performing simple household tasks. indirect and convoluted way.

Since then, Rube Goldberg contests have been held around the world – challenging participants to create the most complicated contraptions using what Goldberg defined as six simple machines: a pulley, a lever, a wedge, a plane inclined, a screw and a wheel and an axle. . Purdue University hosts one of the most prestigious Goldberg competitions.

This month, Fletcher asked his sixth graders to design cartoons of a Rube Goldberg machine. Those who she says “knocked her out of the park” were asked to turn their cartoons into real-life projects.

Those who did were rewarded with a blue and gold medal resembling the school’s STEM logo, which Fletcher created on a 3D printer.

Sean Fannin was among the students who won a medal for his efforts.

He made a cardboard machine that turned the simple task of raising a white flag into a four-step process.

Sean demonstrated the steps by letting a roll of duct tape roll down a ramp, which in turn knocked over a cardboard hammer that was sitting upright. The hammer then fell and tipped over a small bucket, causing a pulley to hoist a small white flag into the air.

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaches you how to build things using what’s around you,” said the 12-year-old, who found the assignment a lot of fun.

Sixth grader Kaiden Frischkorn also had a kick in building a Rube Goldberg machine.

“I think it’s really cool to build something using a bunch of different (simple) machines,” she said.

Both students said the project taught them problem-solving skills, which Fletcher said was the whole point of the assignment.

“I think they learn more from failure than from success. You have to keep trying,” she said.

Goldberg’s mission in creating his cartoons was to encourage people to embrace technology as a simpler way of doing things, Fletcher said, rather than resisting advances in favor of doing things the way they do. The hardest.

“His message was for people who resisted technology and progress,” she said.

“A computer is a technology. A pencil is technology. These are all tools we can use to make life easier. His message was that people embrace technology and don’t make things harder than they should.

Flipping that process upside down is what Rube Goldberg machines are designed for, she said.

“It all comes down to problem solving. There are issues that tend to be resolved in every job,” Fletcher said. “Every boss needs employees who can look at something and think, ‘That’s the problem. How can we fix it?’

When a few of his students became frustrated when their Rube Goldberg projects didn’t work out, Fletcher assured them that they were fine.

“It’s about making it work where you’re learning. I think it’s very valuable,” she said.

“There’s not much that we all do that we get 100% right the first time. You have to learn not to throw in the towel. The whole point of the construction process is to design it and design it. If it doesn’t work, you redesign and rearrange until it works. »

Fletcher, a former music teacher and daughter of an electrical engineer, said she was enjoying her first year teaching STEM.

When told she would be teaching STEM to each of Greenfield Intermediate’s more than 500 students this year, she attended online lectures and workshops, reading and watching YouTube videos to learn everything she had to offer. could.

She also bought a 3D printer which she used to create the STEM medals she recently gave away.

This month, she’s teaching computer coding, helping students program robots to slide and spin on the classroom floor.

She plans to have her sixth-grade students build Rube Goldberg machines each year, as part of a learning unit about how roller coasters work.

She was hoping to take them to see Purdue’s Rube Goldberg competition this year, but the annual event was canceled due to COVID, so the students watched videos of past events instead.

“Purdue’s competition attracts entries from across the country. These students spend an incredible number of hours designing and building them,” she said, as her fifth graders sent tiny robots spinning in front of her feet on the classroom floor.

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