One of my very first blog posts was about a Chain Reaction project which I carry out with Transition Year students.
The technical term for these things is actually Rube Goldberg machines.
A Rube Goldberg machine is an incredibly overengineered apparatus that performs a very simple task in very indirect and convoluted fashion (thus absurdly violating the principle of parsimony).
I like this too (also from wikipedia)
It has been argued that fissioning uranium to boil water under tremendous temperature and pressure renders nuclear power a Rube Goldberg machine.
One of these was featured recently on youtube:
I continue to believe that it’s a wonderful way for students to carry out project work, and I would certainly have no problem employing this guy as an engineer ahead of someone with similar qualilfications but higher grades.
There is even a Japanese Championship involving these contraptions.
Apparently learning can be fun after all . . .
“The Way Things Go” is a wonderful short film of a chain reaction put together in some large warehouse.
At some stage I was asked ‘why can’t we do that’?, and I thought ‘Well why not’?
So recently I gave the task to my transition years, and they have taken to it like no other project or experiment they have ever done (in physics at least).
They have to come up with their own design, use their own resources, it can be as simple or as complex as they wish.
In fact as an engineering project it is very useful because those who initially wanted everything in it, quickly realised how unpractical this is.
There is also serious teamwork involved, and whose who plan in advance tend to do best.
The most successful so far have been the teams who go for short simple parts.
They can they put the final project together inside teh lab or outside in a field. We video it, and they vote for the best project.
I used to be uncomfortable with this, primarily because I was handing over the class to the students, and therefore I had less control, but now I can see so many benifits that I would be very upset if I couldn’t use this any more.
So for any other physics teachers out there (and there’s no reason why it has to be just physics) why not give it a go?
We could always compare projects and have an inter-school challenge!
You don’t need any equipment, budget, or even much preparation on your part; it is, as they say, a win-win situation.