After their machine didn’t work the first time, Windy Ridge School’s Keira Moran, Haven Melton, Madison Modlin and Addison Stump were able to make adjustments. Finally, on the third try, their machine worked.
Blankner Elementary won second place in the fifth-grade competition.
West Orange Times & Observer
WINTER GARDEN In your hands, you hold a roll of duct tape, a marble, a toy car, a piece of string, some plastic and a stack of cardboard.
Can you use them to open a hardcover book at least 130 degrees?
Can you do it by touching only one piece? Can you do it in a predetermined-sized space? And can you do it while incorporating at least three simple machines (see sidebar)?
Oh — and perhaps most importantly — can you do it while the judges are standing there watching?
The tension was palpable as elementary-age students from throughout the school district tried to do just that and more at the 2016 STEM/Rube Goldberg Challenge, held Jan. 30 at West Orange High School.
More than 400 students and coaches representing nearly 30 schools participated in this year’s challenge. The idea was the brainchild of Keene’s Crossing Elementary Principal Sherry Donaldson and STEM teacher Sandra Hoffman, who launched the competition two years ago.
“We found (through our science fairs) that there was not a whole lot of depth in the projects,” Donaldson said. “We wanted (the students) to be more involved, to be building things. We wanted there to be a bigger learning component.”
In 2015, its first year as a district event, the competition featured 56 teams from schools throughout the county. One year later, 86 teams signed up, and organizers moved the competition to West Orange High to accommodate.
Inspired by the American cartoonist, engineer and inventor of the same name, the Rube Goldberg Challenge tasks teams with building complex, sometimes convoluted, machines out of household recyclables and other items (spending no more than $10) that complete a given task. A panel of judges evaluates each machine to make sure it satisfies a litany of parameters, and then the students are given three attempts to make the machine work. Along with the actual machine, each team also kept a journal to record its creation process.
For the book-opening challenge, Windy Ridge School fifth-graders Keira Moran, Haven Melton, Madison Modlin and Addison Stump built a machine called “Rube Goldberg’s Dictionary” that began with a turn of a screw and ended — 18 steps later — with opening a copy of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. In between, the girls, along with coach Paul Modlin, incorporated balloons, eggs, a toy car, string, a pencil and many more items that acted as inclined planes, wedges, pulleys and other simple machines.
Donaldson said she hopes to see the competition grow to include all of Central Florida and even the state.
WHO WAS RUBE GOLDBERG?
Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor best known for his cartoons that depicted complicated gadgets performing simple tasks in convoluted ways.
A Rube Goldberg machine is a device that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion.
The competition was so stress-filled and intense that one student lost a tooth in all the excitement.
During lunch, Windy Ridge School fifth-grader Addison Stump felt her upper left cuspid begin to wiggle. Just a few minutes later, it came out completely.
“It wasn’t even loose before today,” she said.
With the missing tooth, her smile is now symmetrical once again — her upper right cuspid already was missing.
As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.