Does the planning process seem too daunting? While the idea of planning for a Rube Goldberg Engineering Event might seem daunting, I hope this post will encourage you to take on this challenge. Additionally, in this post, I will break down the planning process and outline some manageable phases so that you will feel comfortable taking those first steps to affording your children a fun and exceptional learning experience.
How to get buy-in from your peers. Believe it or not, one of the biggest challenges that I always face when suggesting and getting a Rube Goldberg event going at a new school is peer buy-in. Never fear, here are two tried and true steps that have helped me get those first peer teachers interested and that later result in others becoming excited and involved so that it soon grows to a much-anticipated school-wide event.
My first secret is to harness the enthusiasm of the new teacher. It is not that experienced teachers do not have enthusiasm, but new teachers tend to be enthusiastic yet lack the extensive rapporteur of ideas, activities, and lessons. Generally speaking, when I propose my Rube Goldberg Engineering Event and corresponding lessons to a few new teachers, they jump right on board because they can borrow my ideas for their future use.
My second tip to getting peer buy-in is to make all of my ideas and lessons fully accessible to everyone. In this way, my peers can use my preexisting activities and ideas and modify them for their own purposes. I encourage sharing of ideas and resources for this project to be a success. I even offer to teach example lessons during faculty and or department meetings. I welcome feedback from my peers about how these lessons and activities can be improved and enhanced.
Soliciting help is an important step to success. I highly, highly suggest soliciting help from not only fellow educators and administrators but also from parents and community members. This tends to be easier in an elementary school setting and gets more difficult as you move up in the grade levels; however, with that said, while I have been more successful in getting “parental unit” types to help in the elementary school, I have had equal success with recruiting more community members to help in the upper grades. In particular, I have asked and gotten military members to judge and teach lessons even. I have also had success recruiting college students and or college level educators to volunteer with my Rube Goldberg Events.
Locating a space can be challenging. One of the first challenges when setting up a Rube Goldberg event is figuring out where you can hold the actual event. Additionally, the lessons that lead up to the culminating competition require a space for not only instruction but also student building areas or at least the storage of the projects. Some of the places that I have successfully found a space to teach the lessons in a school include the library, the cafeteria, the gym and even outdoors. I have also had success in holding the engineering contest in the gym, and cafeteria. In general, you will need a large space if you plan on having many classes participate in the event. As a way to get the physical education teacher to give up her/his classroom/gym for a few days, I have volunteered to teach the simple machine lessons during P.E. time. I have used P.E. equipment to make simple machines that help the students learn the science concepts while also getting some physical exercise. Wherever you end up selecting to hold your Rube Goldberg Engineering event, be prepared to embrace the mess. I come from a Dutch background where I could eat off the floor any day of the week in my home and so, it was a bit difficult for me to embrace the mess, but in the end, I could see that the mess equaled an unbeatable student-centered learning experience.
What materials should students use? I highly suggest that students use recycled material when building their projects. In the past, I have allowed students to use any sort of material and there are some advantages to allowing any material to be used.
Specifically, students tend to have sturdier projects, that are a bit more creative when they can incorporate wood, nails, etc. into their designs. The drawback is that many students will not have the money to use these more expensive materials and I think this creates an unfair disadvantage/advantage for some children. As a result, I feel using recycled material is the way to go. With that said, I do suggest that you tell your students to start collecting recycled material fairly early in the process. Additionally, I allow students to use all sorts of recycled material even wood scraps. I do make it a rule that families should not buy any of the materials that they use for the competition.
Well, that wraps up my second post on how to get a Rube Goldberg Event going at your school. Stay tuned for my next post that will feature specific lesson plans that you can use to teach students about simple machines.