Eighth Grade Takes On The Rube Goldberg Challenge

“When life gives you Rube Goldberg, make lemonade”

The Sinclair Room on the afternoon of June 1 was a riotous scene of ricocheting marbles, mouse traps galore, and glue, paint, and sticky stuff from left to right, from glue to cotton candy. The event was not a school carnival gone awry, but the semi-annual Rube Goldberg Project which returned this June after pausing in recent years due to Covid.

The assignment, three weeks in duration, asks students to create simple machines, working collaboratively with partners, and dealing with trial and error along the way. “You have to fix as you go,” Head of Middle School Jared Schott reflected, commenting that the success rate of these devices is not 100%. Frustration and adaptation are part of the process; if the machine does work, one must correct course, try to fix it on the spot, or adjust to the outcome with equanimity (“it’s the thought that counts” was the mantra on display at one exhibit where all did not go to intended plan, and “when life gives you Rube Goldberg, make lemonade” at another).

One student, Carolina, commented, “It was hard but fun trying to get our machine to succeed. There were lots of road bumps along the way, but it was fun when it worked.”

Each team’s project had a theme chosen by the group, ranging from Harry Potter, Fortune Tellers, Great Britain, Cotton Candy, Bowling, Bubble Machine and more. The Harry Potter themed machine acted as a sorting hat game, where the end point of the marble determined which Hogwarts house you belonged to. The participant is asked first to choose a wand out of three selections, then they are assigned a specific side of the machine to begin their journey. Using the wand, they must then tap the domino and the chain reaction pulls the marble across the system, swirling into a steel spiral and into the sorting hat where your house is selected. Ravenclaw for the win!

When asked what the most challenging aspect of the Rube Goldberg project was, the team said, “making sure the system is consistent and running every time. And also being in the crossfire of the other projects and making sure nothing breaks!”

Teachers helped students with planning, brainstorming and troubleshooting.

Alumna Cat Mazo, substituting in middle school, eagerly jumped in to help with the project. She did an independent study when she was an eighth grader at MB and said the Rube Goldberg project generated a lot of energy and palpable student excitement: “I loved seeing the students put this together and how it all came together in the end.” She especially enjoyed seeing students let their individual creativity show. “Students get a lot out of this: collaboration, problem-solving, and hands-on work,” she says.

Being able to present their projects to their fellow classmates and MB faculty and staff in the Sinclair Room was the ultimate reward, and probably relief, to the students. Is Rube Goldberg’s way of completing a simple task in a very complicated fashion practical? No. Fun and inventive? Definitely! Kudos to our 8th graders for stepping up to the challenge!

Rube Goldberg Presentations 2022 from Moses Brown School on Vimeo.