Humans always tackle the simplest problems in the most difficult ways. .The midterm designed by Anjali Shah for her Integrated Physics and Art senior class, began with this idea and observation of a Honda commercial. Students (mainly in their senior year) had to create Rube Goldberg Machines - a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion. They could choose their end point, for example: popping a balloon, turning on a light or buttering toast. Students were placed in pairs, (individual work and groups of three where requested were permitted). Although apprehensive of working with people not of their choice, there were no complaints. The task size varied by group size as each machine had to use at least five steps per person. Each group had to undertake research, form an idea, produce a blue print, create a model, test it out and calculate all the forces involved (momentum, torque, friction, velocity etc.).

We thought this was a particularly interesting Rich Task as it...
  • is interdisciplinary - and physics and art are not perhaps the first subjects one would think to combine
  • is a form of assessment - midterms are exams administered in the middle of an academic term
  • is a new project - There was sufficient flexibility in the system for Ms Shah to introduce this project as a form of assessment
  • encompassed a practical element - students were given the choice between this project or a sit-down exam

Ms Shah discussed her reasons for creating this project:

“I think there is a certain age by which if a student acquires certain skills they can really, really use their upmost brainpower. Now to make that happen, it is very important that they learn to observe. Because observation is freedom. And because observation is freedom it is important to give the students a bit of freedom to allow them to look beyond what they can see.” “I feel that if the students are given enough chances to enjoy complexity they will do marvellous, beyond even my comprehension.”

In this Rich Task, many of the ideas and thoughts raised in our research on the future of learning, teaching and schools were seen in practice. For a brief summary of this, take a look at the following video.
For a more detailed analysis, open the file below. For more information of the numbers in the Table - check the..Future developments may include students designing an I-phone app based on their Rube Goldberg machines and creating large-scale outdoor models of their machines for their final exam. The I-phone app idea would be an excellent example of utilizing modern technology in a creative yet productive way..We also conducted an interview with Ms Shah, which can be seen below.Thanks to Ms Shah and her class for allowing us to join them during their Midterm class!

Ridgewood Physics Art Midterm from Greg McCarron on Vimeo.

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<iframe src="" width="400" height="320" frameborder="0"></iframe><p><a href="">Untitled</a> from <a href="">Jenny Fraser</a> on <a href="">Vimeo</a>.</p>