For the past three weeks, our students have worked in Design Challenge to create Rube Goldberg machines. Most of our students have never heard of Rube Goldberg machines much less designed one. The truth is that neither of my co-teachers nor I had designed them either. So, like much of our design challenge experiences, we learned along with our students. And it was every bit of an extraordinary journey. There were times when we really considered abandoning the idea altogether but we (our students and ourselves) hung in there. In the end, I continue to be so proud of our students and what they accomplished.
Creating these machines posed challenges that forced ours students to think differently and shift their paradigms. Perhaps the biggest shifts in paradigms involved helping our students understand how to measure success. Most of them identified success as the machine completing the identified task. However, they quickly discovered that they may need to reevaluate the metrics that they used for success. Instead. they "pivoted" and modified how they measured success. This kind of pivot is also very true in life. Sometimes, our original purpose and way to measure success has to be altered. Many of our students have never had the opportunity to fully be immersed in designing machines with a specific purpose. A lot of them are deficient in some aspects of physics. However, they learned how to improvise and quickly find ways to work though emerging challenges.
A lot of our students have experienced a lot of challenges in their personal life. While we, as teachers, may never fully know the true impact of these challenges on our students, we do know that we must support and encourage our students to continue to persevere through these challenges. We must ensure that our students have developed the necessary coping mechanisms to process these challenges and identify proactive solutions. There were times when some students even gave up and said that they would take the failing grade. However, these students returned the next day ready to try again. There was something that I saw with our students that I did not expect. It was a willingness to not let the problem or challenge get the best of them. There were times when group communication deteriorated and I was certain that this group would most definitely split up. However, these same students returned after a break to begin working together once again. As I thought about these experiences, it made me wonder "What is it that is driving these students to complete these challenges?" Many appeared to be so willing to give up so readily but yet they returned back to try again.
As we approached our deadline, our students worked harder and harder. They relied less on us for structure and direction. Our roles shifted to providing resources such as pulleys, yarn, and cardboard. We also became cheerleaders and supporters. In short, our students had transformed and so had we. I did not even realize it. Too often, we get "stuck" in our "factory model of education" where we don't allow our students the opportunity to show us new and different ways of thinking. Our principal reminded us today that for the longest time divergent thinking was not encouraged and celebrated in public education. As we clearly saw with this challenge, all of our students (regardless of their academic ability, motivation, and background) have so much to offer us. They reminded me of the importance of letting them do things their own way and finding their own solutions. It was so gratifying to see the pride that so many students showed in their final designs. Most students were genuine proud of what they had built and accomplished. It was clear that students took ownership of this challenge and find innovative ways to solve problems with limited materials and experiences. The purpose of a Rube Goldberg machine is to complete a simple task in a complex way. In this case, our students proved that they have the skills and ability to solve a challenge and "stick with it" (grit?). They proved that student ownership is huge motivator. Many of the students were initially less than enthusiastic about this challenge. However, there was no lack of enthusiasm today as we concluded this challenge. To my students, I say "Thank You" for helping me to experience the power of divergent thinking to create solutions and I applaud each of you for sticking with your challenge. The pride that I have in each of you far exceeds any words that I could write.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.