Monday, June 10, 2013

A Complicated Solution to a Simple Problem

How many teenagers does it take to turn off the light?  That was the problem that needed solving in my basement this weekend.  Jack had a group project for Science--he and two of his friends needed to create a Rube Goldberg machine.  If you are not familiar with Rube Goldberg, he was famous for drawing cartoons that explained very complicated solutions to simple problems.

For their science project, the machine had to include different types of simple machines, be at least 15 steps, and actually have to DO something. The boys worked all afternoon weaving a maze of ramps and dominos, homemade pulleys and rolling balls.  Finally they had built a machine that started at the top of the  steps and ended with the basement light turning on.  All they had left to do was film it in action.

The key, however, was to iron out the glitches so that all 15 steps would work consecutively without stopping.  Their first attempt was unsuccessful, as was their second, and third...and 25th.

"Maybe you could splice a few of these films together so you can see the whole effect," I suggested.  After all, it was getting late.  The afternoon playdate had turned into a sleepover.  I headed to the grocery store for emergency rations of Doritos and root beer.

"It's going to work this time, I can feel it," P.J. said.  The ball rolled down the steps to hit the table.  The impact knocked the weight to activate the pulley, which pushed the toy car down into the dominoes.  The last domino in the row stayed standing.

"Noooo!" all the boys yelled.  Take 35 unsuccessful.

"Why don't you go to bed," I suggested--mainly because I was tired.  Am I allowed to go to sleep when I have 3 teenage boys awake in my basement?  What is the parenting protocol on this? 

I finally did doze off, until I was awakenened by screaming at 1:30 am.  I stumbled down to the basement to find the three boys jumping up and down ecstatically.  "We did it!  It worked!" 

What started out as a homework assignment for these boys turned into something more.  It was a challenge.  They spent the entire day together brainstorming, compromising, laughing, sharing and working.  Like engineers, they revised their design and had countless trial runs.  They designed a machine and they weren't going to quit until they got it to work.

Now, next question.  How many teenagers does it take to clean up that basement?

1 comment:

  1. That is AWESOME! I especially love the (quiet) screaming!
    What a wonderful job those kids did!

    (And it makes me so damn glad that Emma's castle-building group went home and came back--and went home and came back again--instead of spending all weekend in my living room/breakfast nook. The worst part of that was unplugging the freezer to plug in the glue gun, and it provided me with a new pizza crust so not all waste.

    Thanks for the morning rush of warm feelings!