The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Local Education

March 11, 2013

Rube Goldberg competition inspires students

ANDERSON, Ind. — When Anderson High School sophomore Michael Ake was just a fourth-grader, he worked on his first Rube Goldberg machine.

And when Highland High School’s team stopped by to check out the machines and show their own device off, he was inspired.

Now Ake, along with 13 other students, will be heading to nationals at Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis., on March 16. It’s the team’s second year in a row.

“It’s been positive,” Ake said of the experience. It’s the first chance he’s had to be on the team. “I’ve gotten to thinking outside the box in ways I didn’t think before.”

Ake, like many of his teammates, enjoys being presented with a challenge and using critical and creative thinking skills to solve it.

And the whole point of a Rube Goldberg machine is to take an easy task and complicate it. After all, the contest’s namesake is late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who drew complex, whimsical machines that performed simple tasks.

This year, the team had to build a machine that would hammer a nail in at least 20 steps. Physics teacher David Perrel said the team wanted to pick a “fun, reach multiple generations” theme.

So they settled on “Cat in the Hat” with the task of locking the “Things” away in their box. The students began building in November and have put over 1,000 hours into it, Perrel said.

It’s senior Anna Gustin’s second year to compete on the team and she said it’s an exhausting but definitely worthwhile effort.

Working on one single step for days can “drive you nuts,” she said, but when it all comes together and works, it’s rewarding.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into but I love it,” she said.

She too was inspired by Rube Goldberg. Gustin has plans to go to Purdue University to study engineering — all because of her experience on the team, she said.

This year, the AHS Rube Goldberg team had to beat five other high schools at Purdue University on Feb. 23 to win the regional competition. They did.

“Competing was scary,” Ake said. “You watch each machine, some exceed above all expectations, some crash and burn, and when it gets to your machine, you have no idea what will happen.”

The team has come to expect the unexpected.

Last year, the students placed third at nationals, even after they had to rebuild a machine in less than three weeks after it was destroyed in a car accident. The original took three months to construct.

Gustin said it was rough to see the machine lying in pieces on the road, some of which were missing when they got back.

But since they’d already made it so far, there was no going back. Through school and community support, Gustin said, they made it through.

Now she, her teammates from last year and her new teammates from this year have high hopes.

No matter what they get at nationals, the students will be displaying their machine at Conner Prairie’s science exhibit over the summer, and visiting elementary schools.

“It’s fun being able, every year, to see students that have never even held a power drill gain new skills,” Perrel said. “To see their pride in it.”

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