Madeley Ranch GT students take the Rube Goldberg challenge

Fifth grade science curriculum includes a unit covering forms of energy and how energy is transferred. Thanks to donations from residents in both Walden and Grand Harbor, 5th grade science teacher Michelle Knowlton was able to take teaching this unit to a whole new level this school year.

“It started with donations from anyone that would let me pick stuff up off their driveway,” Knowlton said. “And with all the amazing materials we were able to truly do hands on learning. Students were able to take apart doorknobs to study the mechanical energy and next we’re going to take apart old fans to see what energy components make them work.”

Once all the supplies were collected, it only made sense to take it one step further. Rube Goldberg machines are a chain reaction-type machine or contraption intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way. Want to throw something in the trash? Let’s make it as complicated as possible and study energy while we do so.

“I just thought this is what we needed to do instead of a worksheet,” Mrs. Knowlton said. “The students spent weeks designing, testing and tweaking their machines and were able to show that they understood the transfers of energy taking place.”

Students were put into teacher assigned groups and the assignment required planning, problem solving, working together and sometimes being able to accept that your grand idea just might not work out. As they tested and tweaked and studied more about energy, they also learned some valuable life lessons.

Before students could host their showcase on Friday, they completed their unit assessment Thursday. Knowlton said that the scores on this year’s unit assessment were better than ever before, crediting this hands-on approach to teaching the unit and giving students the opportunity to learn beyond the textbook.

With ownership over the projects and the effort required, students were taking such pride in showing off their creations and then celebrating the success of their peers. Each Rube Goldberg machine had to have a purpose, had to have a minimum of 5 transfers of energy and students were required to fill out a reflection sheet of things tried, what worked and what didn’t and how they worked with their group to achieve success.

One group’s goal was to have a stamp put on their envelope so they could “deliver” a sweet note of thanks to Mrs. Knowlton.

“This is all for the students,” Mrs. Knowlton said. “I’m so thankful for the donations from our school communities and I’m just really proud of these kids and how hard they worked to find success!”

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