Racecars and putty and Goldberg, oh My!
by Hawkins Teague
Mar 28, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While most kids wouldn’t expect to see the words, “math,” and “fun,” in the same sentence, it was hard to separate them last week at the high school’s third annual Engineering Day.

Pre-engineering teacher Lori Ricks said that primary school students and eighth graders were invited to the event to see how math and science could be applied to create 10 different stations, which included everything from racecars to making homemade Silly Putty. The eighth grade classes were asked to come this year, because they will have the option to take an engineering class as an elective when they choose their schedules for their first year of high school soon.

The first station that students saw upon entering the classroom featured two “Rube Goldberg” devices, which are named after the American cartoonist who was known for drawing inventions that performed simple tasks in extremely convoluted ways. These types of machines are known to most people through their incarnations in “Loony Toons” and “Scooby Doo” cartoons, as well as movies like “The Goonies,” and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

The machines built by Ricks’ students achieved a very simple task: sending a marble from one end to the other. During one of the demonstrations, the marble fell through a hole near the end of the machine and a group of second grade students chimed in unison, “Ha, ha, ha,” singing the playful taunt in descending notes. Of course, the minor flaw was nothing a little duct tape couldn’t instantly fix.

Josh Cox was one of the students who spent most of the school day on Friday showing off the invention to the many children that visited. He said that it took about 15 different students to create the two machines that were shown. He said that several small groups created their own components of the machine and had to collaborate with the other groups to make sure that everything functioned together properly. He said that it took all of them about a week to assemble all the components.

Ricks said the machines are always fun to make and that there is even a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest held every year at Purdue University where people submit machines for judging. This year, the object of the contest is to create a complicated machine that will squeeze fresh orange juice into a pitcher. Although students in her class have never entered before, she said it might be a possibility next year.

Next to the Goldberg devices, Skye Darnell asked the young students how many of them had played with Legos before, to which most answered, “Me!” Darnell then showed them a battery-powered device called an RCX that could be attached to Lego vehicles. She also showed them a solar panel that could also be attached to the little cars. She said it was an interesting way to teach kids about environmental issues.

Darnell is president of both the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) and the Technology Students Association (TSA). STLP is open to kids of any age and has about 20 members at the high school, Ricks said. TSA is sort of like FFA for engineering students and holds TSA competitions each year. Darnell said the criteria for judging at the competitions are very stringent.

One of the seemingly more popular stations at the Engineering Day featured a racetrack for wooden models. Kenny Gipson said the models are all shaped from kits that include a block of balsa wood and are judged by their aerodynamics. Cars must be at least 68 grams to qualify for competition, he said. The cars mostly have straw axles and the engineers aim to have as little friction as possible between the tires and the ground.

Victor Perez said he had “by far” the fastest car at last year’s state competition, but that he thought the judges took appearance into account too much. He said the cars they were demonstrating at Engineering Day were similarly fast, at about 55 mph.

“I’m sure the kids will agree that this is the coolest booth, even above the Silly Putty and the food,” Perez said.

Judging by the many excited screams and squeals, Perez might have been right. When students hit the button to eject air and launch two cars, they shot lightning-fast into a stack of towels, capturing the attention of the students around the track.

“That blue one went so fast!” shouted one second grade boy with his mouth open.

It’s possible, though, that the ballistic devices demonstrated outside by Jared Harper were every bit as popular. When Harper gave his first demonstration to Kim Mitchell’s first grade class, they seemed surprised by the power of the trebuchet made by Harper and Cox. As soon as the golf ball launched into the air, the children (especially the boys) let out several guttural noises of joy.

Also outside was a station where kids could make edible cars with ingredients such as Twizzlers, marshmallows and toothpicks. There was another station where the kids could make their own Silly Putty-like substance with glue, water and Borax. In a plastic wading pool next to that station, Matt Wallace showed children a small cardboard canoe. It contained quite a few golf balls, but still floated, its bottom sides covered in duct tape.

Back inside, children could also look at how the school’s computer-aided drafting software worked. At another station, kids could put together isometric blocks made by several engineering students Cady Gresham said the blocks were designed on computers and glued together and painted by several students.

Mitchell said it was the second year she brought her class to Engineering Day. She said her class had not yet studied simple machines, but thought her students would be more interested when they start in a couple of weeks because of what they had seen that day.

“It seems like it just gets better and better,” Mitchell said.

Editorial note: Due to an error in laying out this story, the last section of text was missing from the print edition. This was the complete version.
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