Monday, April 25, 2016

Chain Reactions-the best tinkering activity!

I think Rube Goldberg (or chain reaction) builds capture the essence of everything we're trying to do in the Learning Lab.  This open-ended activity allows children to easily work through the engineering process.  We had students think about a design ahead of time, troubleshoot, and then explain how their machine worked.  This activity, more than any activity we have ever done, had students continuously tinkering and troubleshooting until they got their design right. I could see some of them improving in their ability to focus and stick with a challenging project before my eyes in one afternoon.

I had thought that we needed an elaborate set of materials for this build, but in the end what you see below is all we really needed--blocks, marbles, dominoes, paper towel tubes, tape craft sticks, of all...pieces of a staff member's old plastic race track.

Chain reaction builds also provide for a varied range of skills and work well for an after-school program. For some children, just mastering the concept that a ball rolls downhill when when one end of the ramp is higher than the other was a learning moment. For other children, figuring out how to have their ball change direction provided just the right amount of challenge.

We made short videos of their machines and had them explain how they worked. The video proved to be quite popular and kept the students constantly improving and getting things to work just right.

I think we could offer chain reaction builds frequently. Our Pinterest Board has lots of ideas.

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