Saturday, December 19, 2015

How to Create a Rube Goldberg Science Experiment.


A few months ago, we wrote about our Sunday afternoon adventures designing a Rube Goldberg science experiment for our son's 6th grade project.  Now, with time, practice, note taking and some blood, sweat and tears, we are happy to share our story to help others with their future projects.  We want to walk through the steps involved in scientific experiment to help you better understand the process.  However, as with all scientific experiment, the learning process can come in small successes to sudden large advances.  It takes, time, patience, collaboration and the will to try alternative solutions to prove your hypothesis and we will help you walk through it.

Your first step is to come up with a question that requires testing through research and controlled tests.  Next, the student will need to come up with a sound hypothesis where there is a clear defining "True or False" response when the experimental test is complete.  Then, the student must design the experiment where all inputs can be held constant in order to control the results.  After the design is constructed, the experiment is tested where the results and findings are analyzed and documented.  Single and independent changes are made and retesting takes place so that the student can document and analyze the new results.  Continued changes, trial tests, documentation and analysis is completed until the student can ultimately prove or disprove the hypothesis with that"True / False" response.

For our son's project, he wanted to make a volcano erupt using several simple machines in Rube Goldberg fashion.  These tools include a wedge, inclined plane, pulley, lever, wheel and axle and screw.  Once he determined his goal, the question, he developed a hypothesis in order to prove his experiment.  Next, he documented ideas for completing his experiment where the rules included a mandatory 6 steps of energy transfer while using a minimum of 3 simple machines.  He documented and rough sketched a design to show the six energy transfers.  After completing the rough design, he needed to write down the simple machines he would use in his experiment while developing a list of materials needed to complete the test.  We then took him shopping and starting building the test model.  Finally, tests started and he documented the results of the tests while coming up with ideas on necessary changes that would impact the outcome to the desired result.
Rube Goldberg
Volcano Construction
He learned many new skills while working on the design phase of his project.  He first needed to make a volcano.  Through his research, he determined that spray insulation foam and an empty water bottle would be the easiest, lightest and least expensive method for building this feature.  Working backwards from his ultimate goal seemed easier to ensure the simple machines were completing the necessary actions to achieve the goal.  He then had to learn how to use power tools to cut, drill and screw pieces together after placing items strategically in place.  His experiment was using 3 simple machines however with design changes in order to make the volcano erupt; he quickly found new ways to include additional tools through some guidance and critical thinking.  When placing his inclined plane, he discovered the need to elevate one end of a Hot Wheels track to keep the energy in motion.  Lastly, he discovered how outside forces can impact your results if you do not have a good controlled model in place.  From the wind blowing over his levers to little brother's accidentally kicking the table leg to being too excited when the step up and first test was ready to run, there were many learning opportunities.
Rube Goldburg
Designing the test
As for his project, a theme started to take shape as test after test were run. His project starts with a lever that drops a weight off an elevated surface. This weight pulls off a clothes pin which is holding a marble taped to a string and wound around a pole acting as a screw. The marble unwinds from the screw knocking over strategically placed dominos which are acting as levers. The dominos fall and push a Hot Wheel fire engine down the inclined plane. Attached to the fire engine is a string that is wound around a wheel and axle to change its direction and which is tied to a cotter pin that is acting as a wedge. The cotter pin is pushed through a hole drilled into a PVC pipe fastened above the volcano. The premise is to have these 5 simple machines transfer energy in order to release Mentos (candy) into Coca-Cola (soda drink) inside the volcano to complete a chemical reaction which allows the volcano to erupt.
Rube Goldberg
Final Stages

This project required hours of documentation, design, project testing, redesign and retesting and ultimately documentation and communication of the results. Photos and video of the design and experiment were taken to help document the overall project. With nearly 60 days of work consisting of 5 minutes here, 2 hours there and 20 minutes then, our son developed a masterpiece that was truly amazing. The results of the test, "Can you erupt a volcano using simple machines?" You will have to watch the video below to find out! Are you ready to start your Rube Goldberg science experiment? Have questions or want help with your tasks, leave us a comment and our young scientist will provide you with some feedback. Get out there and answer questions you have with science!

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