Catherine W. Idzerda" />

Edison Middle School students creating massive, Rube Goldberg-type machine

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, April 9, 2011
— You can build almost anything with cardboard, string, small plastic wheels and—this is crucial—a hot glue gun.

Edison Middle School students were using those items and all of their ingenuity Friday to create a massive, Rube Goldberg-type machine.

Goldberg was known for contraptions in which a simple task, such as passing the salt, is accomplished by a complicated series of maneuvers using ramps, levers, switches and pulleys.

“We’ve got about three weeks to make this,” said Jack Swingle, 13, spokesman for a team made up of him; Erik Woelfle, 13; and Riley Jensen, 13.

They’ll need it.

Not only are they making their own little machine, their machine has to connect to every other little machine in the seventh grade.

Seventh-grade teacher Andy LaChance explained that students were divided into teams and each given a one-foot square of wood. Using string, light wire, paper cups, small weights, plastic wheels, small wooden dowels and little plastic girders, the teams had to create a machine to carry a marble from one side of the square to the other.

“They have to use simple machines—inclined plane, wheel and axle, screw, wedge, pulley—to make their machine,” LaChance explained.

The project teaches concepts such as acceleration, force and weight displacement.

Each team made a blueprint of their gizmo and shared it with the team before and the team after to make sure their machines can eventually connect.

“We’re using a curriculum from Project Lead the Way,” LaChance explained. “It’s using engineering to solve science and math problems. They also have to work together and problem solve.”

Problem solving techniques ranged from “measure once, cut 12 times” to “measure twice, very carefully, talk over all the options, and then cut, but only if you’re absolutely sure.”

And there were always adjustments to be made.

The team of Swingle-Woelfle-Jensen had to grind down an axle to make a wheel spin smoothly.

Then, there was the problem of the paper cups. Where should you put the handle on a paper-cup bucket if you don’t want the bucket to tip over when the marble falls into it?

The team of Bree Porter, 12; Kiana Johnson, 13; and Rosalee Bolton, 13, solved the problem by attaching wire to both sides of the bucket, making it slightly more stable, but not perfect.

When asked if they like science, the girls answered with smiles and “yeahs!”

As part of the project, teachers asked engineers from the city and elsewhere to advise and inspect.

Duane Jorgenson, construction engineer for the city of Janesville, was at Friday’s session, watching kids work and taking his turn running the jigsaw.

He was impressed, both with the program and the student’s efforts.

“It really instills creative thinking and everyday problem solving,” Jorgenson said. “The hands-on part of it is a huge asset. I live in this neighborhood, and I hope they still have this program in place when my kids come to school here.”

Last updated: 5:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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