If you are looking for an easy, cheap and fun activity to do with your students, the Junkyard Wars Rube Goldberg machine is an awesome project I’ve been doing with my class for years. I originally started doing this for a STEM competition we have with a bunch of schools around the area. However, it can be adapted very easily to fit virtually any class size you have.
The whole point is to start with a pile of junk (of course). This can be anything from cardboard to plastic toys, old wire, metal (nothing sharp), you name it. Have kids clean out their rooms and I am sure you will get plenty of garbage to use. Have them bring it in over the course of a few days and pile it somewhere. Essentially they are donating junk for anyone to use, not just them.
Then, assemble students into groups. Create a task they need to accomplish like get a marble to the end of a track in as many steps as possible. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist that would take the simplest of tasks and make it ridiculously complicated. Therefore, students need to create a solution to a problem as complicated as possible using only the junk available to them.
Its important especially in the beginning to have some order to having students collect garbage that they are going to use. What I like to do is allow students to look at the garbage and plan out their designs first, without allowing anyone to touch the pile of trash. Then, I set a timer for 30 seconds or so and allow one student per group to collect one or two items at a time, not allowing them to grab more than that. This is to prevent kids from “hoarding” or just getting as much trash as possible. This way, everyone can get a fair amount of garbage. Another way of doing this is to allow students to collect a certain amount of items total.
Then, allow students to build away. They can use whatever tools or means you allow. Another thing I like to do is give them “required items”. This can also be anything, like rubber bands, balloons, ping pong balls. Etc. Something that has to be incorporated into the project so they just don’t have to rely on junk.
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NOTE: I have no affiliation with Rube Goldberg or Junkyard Wars