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Thirty Years of Rube Goldberg Projects: A Student-Driven Learning Laboratory for Innovation

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Conference

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Engineering Laboratories

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count

28

Page Numbers

22.1522.1 - 22.1522.28

DOI

10.18260/1-2--18682

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/18682

Download Count

96

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Paper Authors

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William Graff LeTourneau University

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R. William Graff is a professor in the school of Engineering and Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University, where he has taught since 1975. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in electrical engineering. Prior to joining the faculty at LeTourneau, he was assistant professor of electrical engineering at Drexel University for six years, and then at Wilkes College for two years. His professional interests include antennas, microwaves, plasmas, teaching, and ethics.

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Paul R. Leiffer LeTourneau University

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Paul R. Leiffer, Ph.D., P.E., is a Professor in the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University, where he has taught since 1979. He is
currently co-developer of the program in BioMedical Engineering. He received his B.S.E.E. from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Drexel University. Prior to joining the faculty at LeTourneau, he was involved in cardiac cell research at
the University of Kansas Medical Center. His professional interests include bioinstrumentation, digital signal processing, and engineering ethics. Email: paulleiffer@letu.edu

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Matthew G. Green LeTourneau University

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Dr. Matthew G. Green is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at LeTourneau University, Longview. His objective is to practice and promote engineering as a serving profession. Focus areas include: remote power generation, design methods for frontier environments, enhanced engineering learning, and assistive devices for persons with disabilities. Contact: MatthewGreen@letu.edu.

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Joel Koblich LeTourneau University

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Joel W. Koblich is an instructor in the School of Engineering and Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University, where he has taught since 2010. He received his B.S.E. (EE) degree from LeTourneau University. Prior to joining the faculty at LeTourneau, he was a corporate technical trainer specializing in factory automation and CNC systems. His professional passions include automation systems, embedded controls, and appropriate technology for developing nations.

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Abstract

Thirty Years of Rube Goldberg Projects: a Student-Driven Learning LaboratoryAbstractOne of the authors runs an annual “Rube Goldberg” design project as the culminating studentdemonstration of a junior level electrical laboratory class. Over the past 30 years attendance hasgrown from a few students the first year to now include city-wide attendance and televisioncoverage from multiple stations. The term “Rube Goldberg” originates from Reuben LuciusGoldberg’s cartoons portraying complex solutions to simple problems, and engineers sometimesuse the term as a derogatory description for an unnecessarily complex system.The “Rube Goldberg” student project assignment includes: “This is a project, proposed,designed, and built by yourself, to demonstrate your creativity. Use of conversion fromelectronic signals to physical motion is encouraged. An electric motor should be usedsomewhere in the project. A good example of what is being sought is the ‘Mousetrap Game.’”Many students see this preparation and demonstration as the epitome of their engineeringeducation. They catch an excitement far out of proportion to the slight grade they get as areward, and are motivated instead in proportion to the large amount of learning. Camaraderie isgenerated, and the night before the public presentation the majority of students spend all night inthe lab adding last-minute details, drinking energy beverages, and eating pizza. The comment “ifProfessor ________ doesn’t teach Lab 3 anymore, there’s no reason to come to __________University” has been overheard on campus.The open-ended Rube Goldberg design project has five very intentional learning goals. Thesegoals include providing students with hands-on experience with: (1) energy transfer andconversions, (2) teamwork, (3) creativity & innovation, (4) public presentation, and (5)Murphy’s law (if anything can go wrong, it probably will.) The effect on student learning hasbeen phenomenal, as demonstrated in part by qualitative assessments such as conversations withalumni. Many teaching principles have been gleaned, such as “Learning by Failure”, “Last-Minute-Engineering”, “The Stupidity of Not Planning Ahead”, “The Importance of Duct Tape”,and “How to Explain Technical Principles to a Diverse Audience.” These learning goals andteaching principles will be expanded in the body of the paper, and the presentation will includevideo clips of some of the most exciting energy transitions. Each successive year the Universityhas seen fit to ban more energy transitions, for safety’s sake, so that the students find it necessaryto find innovative ways to produce shock and awe in future presentations.

Graff, W., & Leiffer, P. R., & Green, M. G., & Koblich, J. (2011, June), Thirty Years of Rube Goldberg Projects: A Student-Driven Learning Laboratory for Innovation Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18682

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