by guest blogger Peggy James from TheGateway.org
Reading Joann’s post about fractions this week made me laugh. Her struggles with fractions were all too familiar to me! In all seriousness, though, it’s really too bad when difficulty with a particular topic turns a student off to that topic. Repeating drills and worksheets to encourage skills is not always successful, and it can frustrate students who don’t understand the material in the first place. Teachers have the tough task of presenting these topics in a variety of ways to keep students interested. When one method doesn’t work, a dedicated teacher tries something new. Sometimes, finding new and different approaches can be a challenge.
Last week’s Summer Slide Buster activities were nice examples of new and different teaching approaches. Those activities encouraged students to create toys, machines, and moving sculptures from discarded items. This week’s activities continue in this theme of re-using “junk” and encouraging STEM skills for students of all ages. Students of all ages who are struggling with physics concepts like Newton’s laws of motion and simple machines can benefit from the following activities during the summer and during the school year. Even if they aren’t struggling in those areas, they might learn a lot from the activities and have a good time doing it.
What could be more fun than solving a simple problem with an over-complicated and comical solution? It definitely beats tutoring sessions and remedial drills! All three featured activities this week focus on creating Rube Goldberg machines. Do you want to turn on a light? Why not knock over a chain of dominoes that sets off a mousetrap and releases a ball down a ramp that hits a stick to switch on the light? It might not be the easiest solution, but it sure is interesting! Out of the many great Gateway resources, we decided to go totally “Rube” this week. Designing and constructing these inventions will challenge students’ understanding of simple machines and creative use of materials.
In Designing a Rube Goldberg Machine, students are introduced to the idea of designing whimsical chain-reaction contraptions. This resource is a good introduction to the ideas and concepts of Rube Goldberg machines. It would work well as a summer physics refresher or as a culminating activity during the school year after a unit on simple machines and calculating mechanical advantage.
You can find a good list of links related to Rube Goldberg machines and ways to integrate them into classroom activities in Games Machines Play: Rube Goldberg Challenge from Scientific American Frontiers. In this lesson, students are challenged to envision their inventions and draw them out. As an extension, the students will actually build and test their designs.
The Net Force and Rube Goldberg activity includes a simple explanation of these machines. The resource also has a good list of materials to provide students who are designing their own Rube Goldberg machines. Like the other resources, this one would be a nice summer activity and would also work well in a classroom environment.
I suggest browsing through the suggested resources above before you introduce Rube Goldberg machines to your students. Combining pieces of all three plans can create an activity that will work perfectly for you and your students. If your students are enjoying these Rube Goldberg activities, be sure to check out the 2013 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. Sometimes a contest is the ideal motivator!
As summer winds down and students and teachers gear up for a successful new school year, encourage your students to learn by creating. When given the opportunity to combine complicated physics topics with the joy and purpose of creating, students will thrive. Please read Joann’s weekly column and join us on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week for more ideas for teaching fractions and creativity. How’s that for variety?
Joann’s companion column: Pieces & Parts: Teaching Fractions