‘They persist’ – Complex machines teach simple lesson to Ellis students

Published 8:06 am Thursday, January 24, 2019

Through a series of complicated mechanisms to perform a seemingly simple task, Ellis Middle School students ended up learning an important lesson on Wednesday morning.

From pendulums to pulleys to levers, seventh and eighth grade students in teams of four were challenged to create Rube Goldberg machines that must contain several components in order to fulfill the task of lighting a light bulb. This meant machines must operate for at least 20 seconds and must consist of pulleys, levers and pendulums, as well as a mystery object.

Wednesday marked the third year that Ellis Middle School students who enrolled in the physics elective created the Rube Goldberg machines as part of their project.

Adrian Vazquez starts his team’s Rube Goldberg machine.

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“I knew about Rube Goldberg machines before,” said Kenny Cabeen, an eighth grade student. “It’s about these machines triggering another part that ultimately performs a simple task.”

The machines took about two and a half weeks to finish, according to Lynne Gaunt, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher. Having a project that focuses on using all aspects of what students have learned, including electricity, graphing and more, the Rube Goldberg machine seemed like a perfect example to utilize lessons, Gaunt said.

“We put all that stuff together in a fun way,” she said. “There’s some frustration for sure, but the students persist and it encourages them to work through the problem.”

Watching a complex machine complete a simple task like putting out a candle or lighting a light bulb through a series of complicated chain reactions was different than actually creating a Rube Goldberg machine that required a little more careful planning and designing.

Marbles make their way through a Rube Goldberg machine during a physics elective Wednesday at Ellis Middle School.

For students, this was an opportunity to learn more about problem solving and pushing through failures. Seventh grade students Adrian Vazquez and Mason Callahan,advised future students who take the course to not “overcomplicate” their machines and rather answer the problems in simple ways.

“It’s frustrating,” Vazquez said. “But be patient and the simpler the better.”

“You can’t give up,” Callahan added.

Despite the complex nature of Rube Goldberg machines, Gaunt stated that the overall lesson also taught students about how to persist despite facing failure.

“They’re going from accepting failure and not doing anything about it to problem solving for the success of the team,” Gaunt said. “By nature, seventh and eighth grade students aren’t persistent. However, they learn to be persistent.”

Grace Anderson explains her team’s Rube Goldberg machine.