June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies
22.1522.1 - 22.1522.28
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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