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Amber Bobst’s Fourth Grade Class at Lakeridge Builds Rube Goldberg Machines as Part of Unit on Energy

Amber Bobst’s Fourth Grade Class at Lakeridge Builds Rube Goldberg Machines as Part of Unit on Energy
MISD Communications
Two students in Amber Bobst's fourh grade class with their Rube Goldberg machines

Mercer Island, WA, April 17, 2024 – Amber Bobst’s fourth grade class at Lakeridge Elementary started a unit on energy prior to Spring Break.

On Monday, students wrapped up the energy unit by creating Rube Goldberg machines and showcasing them to their classmates. As part of the showcase they talked about the transfer of energy with Bobst and two special guests, Lakeridge principal Heidi Christensen and Superintendent Fred Rundle.

“A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine that completes a simple task with several different energy transfers before the task is complete,” said Bobst.

“For example, if a marble starts off and it hits dominoes the energy transfers to the dominoes and then from the dominoes it triggers whatever the next energy transfer might be,” continued Bobst.

In fourth grade students learn about energy transfer, which includes asking questions and predicting outcomes about the changes in energy that occur when objects collide and applying scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another. Bobst has a very active class and thought instead of having students fill out a worksheet on energy transfer she wanted them to create the Rube Goldberg machines for the hands-on experience.

To create the Rube Goldberg machines students had to use items that were in the classroom or that they brought from home. It was challenging for them to come up with their list of items they would use. It took some practice runs before they settled on what items would work.

Throughout the process, many students ran into glitches or problems where their machine wasn’t completing the task they wanted it to. This required some stamina, critical thinking and collaboration. In the end, most of the machines were successful.

Some students created machines that threw something into a recycle bin, while others created machines that turned on the classroom faucet or rang the class doorbell.

Elliott Van Winkle created a machine that turned off the classroom lights using books and his water bottle. 

“We’re building Rube Goldberg machines and my project is to turn off the light switch. I used books to make a tower so that I could knock them over.  I used my water bottle and tied a string to it and put it on the books. It took about 30 seconds to put together. The only hard part was stacking the books,” said Van Winkle.

“I learned that the string has to be tight enough because if it isn’t, the water bottle just falls and it won’t pull the switch down,” Van Winkel explained excitedly.

Rube Goldberg (1883–1970) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American cartoonist, inventor, innovator, and the only person whose name is an adjective in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The Rube Goldberg Institute for Innovation and Creativity has more information on Rube Goldberg.

“I think this has been a really fun and educational project and experience for the students,” summed up Bobst.