Chain Reaction Challenge

We’ve all seen Rube Goldberg machines: overly complicated machines that use everything from dominoes, to motors, to squirrels in order to complete a simple task. But have you ever thought about hosting a Rube Goldberg competition at your library?

Back in July, I hosted the Chain Reaction Challenge: an event where families were given supplies and two hours to construct a Rube Goldberg machine. I admit that I had my doubts about the program initially — especially since our target age was grades K— 5. However, I found that this is a great family program that emphasizes teamwork, critical thinking, and STEM!
CRC 1Interested in hosting your own Rube Goldberg program? Here are a few components you might consider:

Theme/Objective:

Our theme was Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’, and the objective was to have a golf ball roll from one side of the machine to the other and trigger the next machine (creating the chain reaction). While having a theme is pretty optional, it’s imperative to have an objective so that the teams know what they’re working toward. I felt that the golf balls were an excellent choice for this age group, but there are other objectives you could do, such as:

  • Machines must have dominoes
  • Machines must incorporate gravity in some way
  • Machines must involve matchbox cars
  • Machines must start and end with catapults
  • Machines must start and end with a string being pulled
  • Machines must involve trained squirrels (okay, I’m joking on that one)

Supplies:

While many Rube Goldberg machines require motors and technical aspects, we wanted this to be a simple, age-appropriate program. We told families that they were welcome to bring supplies from home, but we also provided a lot of simple, everyday items:

  • CRC 3Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
  • Small cardboard boxes (such as tissue boxes, frozen dinner boxes, etc.)
  • Lots of duct tape
  • String, yarn, wire, pipe cleaners
  • Legos, tinker toys, blocks
  • Various other toys
  • Things that make noise (bells, chimes, buzzers)
  • Things that roll (cars, cylinders, balls)
  • Wooden dowels
  • Balloons
  • Rulers, crayons, markers, scissors
  • Just about anything you can find

CRC 2

Maker Know-How

I was lucky enough to partner with a local nonprofit organization http://tekventure.org/ that specializes in the maker movement. Therefore, we had engineers on hand to mentor the teams and give them some ideas and suggestions for how to build their machines.

But you do not need engineers to run this program! You can just as easily start the program with a slideshow to demonstrate some simple machines (such as ramps, pendulums, etc.). Or even have handouts with suggestions on it. As a matter of fact, the teams that participated in this program came up with most of the ideas themselves, and many of them had zero maker experience prior to the program!

Awards

We had awards for ten different categories, such as: tallest machine, most colorful, most musical, etc. This worked well for us because we had five teams that participated, so each team was able to get two awards! However, the biggest reward was watching the finished machines run. There was a great sense of accomplishment for both kids and adults to see that they created a simple, working machine.

(all photos courtesy Guest Blogger)

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Erin WarzalaErin Warzala is a Children’s Librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She is passionate about early literacy, STEM/STEAM programming, books of all genres, and tea.  She blogs somewhat regularly at http://fallingflannelboards.wordpress.com/ and can be followed on Twitter at @fallingflannel.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

 

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