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Science and Engineering

Greetings! I just finished filming a “Junk Science” lesson at The MCAET. We used stuff that can be found around the house and garage in order to learn about energy. I gathered these materials for today’s golf activity: putting green, putters, golf balls, PVC curved gutter, dominoes, toys…

I started my lesson by asking coaches from The First Tee of Monterey County to volunteer for this experiment. Our Learning Target today was connected to the Next Generation Science Standard HS-PS3: Design, build and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.

The coaches did a great job drawing and explaining their Rube Goldberg device (see picture below). I also loved how their design incorporated golf into the experiment.

Here were some of the student guidelines for the Rube contraption:

  1. The contraption should perform a task.

    Rube Goldberg Machine

  2. It should be stable and stand on its own.
  3. The contraption should be made using items found at home or borrowed from a friend. Please do not purchase anything for this project.
  4. The contraption cannot take longer than 10 minutes to set up.
  5. A “blueprint” must be drawn to turn in the day students present the contraption. Students need to indicate the START and FINISH of the contraption and use arrows to trace the route of movement.

After they shared their design, both coaches putt the ball to start the transfer of energy. We then observed the flow of energy while the golf ball set other objects into motion.

I asked the students (coaches): Do you think it will work, or will you experience some trial and error? What kind of problems may occur?

The students explained how their contraption should eventually work and how it shows cause and effect…

One student thought they may have to problem solve if the ball doesn’t have enough momentum to get through the PVC gutter or if it doesn’t knock down all of the dominoes, sending the wind-up rabbits across the finish line.

Then, they putt the ball…

It didn’t work right away. They had to keep trying and persevere. After a dozen attempts, they decided to slightly redesign their contraption.

Their new design worked immediately! After they accomplished their goal, I asked these questions: Do you think the design was a successful and efficient method of transferring energy? What is your evidence and reasoning?

One student replied, “Our design was successful because we built and tested our device according to our plan. My evidence is when the rabbit crossed the finish line.”

Another student responded, “The ball’s energy changed from potential to kinetic.”

So, then I asked, “What did you learn during this experiment? Why did we do this experiment? How will you use what you have learned today in the future?”

The student replied, “Today I learned that it is OK to fail... We learned from our mistakes and made adjustments to our design. We didn’t give up.”

Another student said, “We did this experiment to learn about the transfer of energy. I’m looking forward to applying what we learned during our Life Science unit next week.”


I asked students to think about the Science lesson and write a reflection in their Science Journals. I also asked them to be prepared to share with their groups and the rest of the class.

Here are some questions for our audience after they view the Junk Science experiment:

How does this classroom look different than a traditional lab experience? What evidence can you see how this shifts student learning? How did I empower my students to lead their own learning by exploring before I explained? Would you consider teaching a Life Science lesson connected to this Physical Science lesson? What elements of STEAM did you see in this lesson?

During my own reflection of this Junk Science lesson, I realized the students accomplished their goal of meeting the Learning Target and it was super fun! For more ideas and resources on how to do a Junk Science lesson in your classroom, please check out the STEAM Resource page and the Junk Science video that we filmed at the MCAET (coming next week)...

Finally, this is the article that inspired my lesson: Junk Science

AND, Here is the link to a video with supporting materials such as lesson plans, design sheets, and other helpful resources: Rube Goldberg Experiment

Next Generation Science Standards

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NGSS - Next Generation
Science Standards

What's Different About the New Science Standards?

Introduction to 3D Learning

A New Vision for Science Education