I am a little behind where I thought I’d be so we have not actually started the energy challenge yet – I will post a recap (& pictures!) once it happens (right after spring break). Anyway, the basic idea of the energy challenge is to build a completely autonomous Rube Goldberg Machine that is capable of popping 3 balloons in a specific order. Students also earn credit for involving multiple energy transformations (i.e. a falling mass releases energy stored in a spring). To accomplish the task students are given a wide variety of household materials including masses, springs, popsicle sticks, cardboard, string, magnets, wheels/axils, pulleys, mouse traps, pvc pipe, thumbtacks, pins, plastic track, textbooks, supersized rubber bands, clothes pins to name a few.
Last year, when the first energy challenge occurred, I was floored by the diversity of ideas. I’m not exaggerating when I say no two designs were even remotely alike. Some groups of students designed machines so complex they would have impressed Goldberg himself. Others designed elegantly simple machines. Either way, you could see how excited students were to match their creativity against such an open ended challenge.
Another thing I think was neat about this activity was that it could have fit under solution fluency or collaborative fluency just as easily.
The Big Picture
Obviously this activity is best suited for physics. However, I think this project demonstrates some of the components that Ken Robinson wrote of in Learning to be Creative. First, creative projects require that many possible routes exist to a solution. Second, most creative activates require resources. Third, to inspire creativity, students need to buy in to the activity. Finally, since creativity is applied imagination – there must be a clear way to evaluate student’s creativity.