Crazy contraptions teach students the science of experimentation

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Crazy contraptions teach students the science of experimentation

July 27, 2018 - 10:52
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  Haley Maharry's Rube Goldberg project used shoots
  to get a marble rolling to set off a chain reaction.

  (Photos by Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
Rube Goldberg would have been proud of the inventions students created at the Homewood Science Center.
 
  Gregory Mitchell watches
  as a black marble goes
  down a slide to set his
  Rube Goldberg project
  in motion.

 
In the weeklong Rube Goldberg Camp for fifth through eighth graders July 16 through 20, the goal was to design a project that would lead to raising a flag. Every student managed to do just that in their own fashion.
 
The contraptions these young scientists designed were right out of Goldberg’s syndicated comic strip, “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts,” published in newspapers throughout the U.S. between 1914 and 1964. Goldberg had earned an engineering degree, but chose a career as a cartoonist. Yet what he learned about engineering he incorporated in his comics.
 
His hand-drawn professor developed crazy inventions that used multiple steps to get to a simple solution. 
 
They were so popular that people imitating them called them “Rube Goldbergs” defined by The Random House Dictionary as "having a fantastically complicated improvised appearance."
 
  Ari Bauer makes a
  last-minute adjustment
  to his Rube Goldberg
  experiment designed in
  the Rube Goldberg Camp
  at the Homewood Science
  Center.

 
Students got to select the materials they would use for the flag-raising finish. Their Rube Goldberg experiments came together with marbles, popsicle sticks, paperclips, a toy car, a golf ball, piping, dominos, string and other bits of flotsam and jetsam. 
 
“I didn’t care how they got to do it, just to get them to understand how it works,” said class teacher Tracy Mis. “We all set up the same type of ending. Anything else is their own flavor and works to their ability.  They could have as many energy transfers as they wanted.”
 
Jack Piros of Homewood, who will be a seventh grader at Parker Junior High, found that some parts of his design worked and others didn’t.
 
“I have this golf ball — and its intended purpose when I pull the popsicle stick to roll down — it’s supposed to hit this,” he said pointing to a lever that was going to activate the next step and the one after that. 

Jack said he’d tried to get it to work, but seemed to be meeting failure. He demonstrated his project and although one or two steps took a bit of nudging from a finger or two, in the end he got it to raise the flag.
 
“It worked that time!” he said excitedly. “A lot of the time what happens sometimes the marble doesn’t roll down hard enough to hit the domino and falls the wrong way,” he explained.
 
Ari Bauer of Flossmoor, another seventh grader at Parker Junior High, said he was enjoying the class. He admitted that plotting out his experiment was “a challenge at first, but it got easier.”
 
Gregory Mitchell of Flossmoor, a fifth grader at Western Avenue School, used a marble to activate a mouse trap that released his heavy weight – a toy car – to get his flag to raise. 
 
He explained the Rube Goldberg experiments as “chain reaction machines.  It was hard to do, but we were able to finish it.”  
 
Haley Maharry of Homewood, a seventh grader at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, liked her finished project, but added: “There’s always a little bit more tweaking to get it to work.” She designed her project around a little blue mouse that when trapped in a cage would raise the flag.