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Teaching Energy through Rube Goldberg Machines

Rube Goldberg- A Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor and author.  Perhaps most famous for his political cartoons but when it comes to my students, he is known for his extremely complex machines used to complete an extremely simple job or task.  What in the world does this have to do with my classroom?  Good question...

So, as a 5th grade teacher in the wonderful state of Texas, I am required to help my students discover some concepts of force, motion and energy.  More specifically, after my students have had ample time to discover, they should be able to explore the uses of energy, including mechanical, light, thermal, electrical, and sound energy.  What better way to do that than allow the students to learn about Rube Goldberg machines than make their own using the principles of the transfer of energy discussed and discovered in class?  Below you will see how I do that.

I usually start my students off with this video from CBS Sunday Morning.

I ask my students to watch the video once without taking notes.  Then, we watch it again- this time I ask my students to write down anything they hear about the transfer of energy (we have already discussed this in class).

Then, we watch this video by the music group OK Go.

Don't even get me started on the cross curricular connections you can smash out using the lyrics of this song (figurative language, theme, etc.).

Coke has a pretty cool Rube Goldberg machine here even though the "hosts" make me a little uncomfortable by their intensity.  We take some time to watch this video as well.

Intense right?

Before, after and during the viewing of those videos, my students are free to explore the Rube Goldberg website found here.  (Being my first blog post ever, I'm pretty excited what I just did with that Link thing...BOOM).

Finally, due to the fact that we are limited on time here in the 5th grade, I give my students an opportunity to stay in during recess or perhaps after school to work on their own Rube Goldberg machine.  Before the students build their machine, they must prove to me that they understand the relationship of the transfer of energy and Rube Goldberg machines.  They do this by drawing a very detailed, clearly labeled blue print of their machine.  We then decide what materials we need, how we can get them for free without getting arrested for stealing and bingo bango boom, we start building.  Who knows, maybe next year you will see a team from my school on CBS Sunday Morning!

If you have any other ideas of how to teach Energy please share below!  Also, have some ideas on how to use Rube Goldberg machines in the classroom, share!



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