Playing cards, dominoes, marbles, soda cans, and even a robotic vacuum cleaner played a key role as Florida Polytechnic University’s students tested the Rube Goldberg machines they created. These items are not often seen in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) class, but they fill several classrooms at the university’s Innovation, Science, and Technology Building.
A Rube Goldberg machine consists of a series of devices linked together to produce a domino effect, in which each device triggers the next one and a goal is achieved after many steps. Building one of these machines is the perfect project to introduce Florida Polytechnic University students to the creative thinking nature of STEM, according to Professor Indira Sukhraj.
“This is not about the grade, it’s about the experience of building something as a team and solving problems, because things don’t always fall into place perfectly,” said Sukhraj, who teaches the Introduction to STEM course at Florida Poly. “This is how students learn creative and critical thinking, as well as learn how to work together. These are common real world challenges we are preparing them for.”
Students work in groups of four to create a device, or event, for the Rube Goldberg machine. The group then works together to link them all as one machine that has to function as two-minute timer. For freshman Hector Vazquez, it was not an easy task.
“The biggest challenge was getting the elevator in our machine to work. The rubber belt we were using kept breaking,” said Vazquez, a mechanical engineering major from Sarasota, Florida. “We ended up replacing it with duct tape and it finally worked.”
Introduction to STEM is a foundation course at Florida Poly that encompasses every degree and program offered at the university, including skills in areas like mathematical methods for problem solving, creative thinking, software and calculator techniques, technical report writing and oral presentations, and professional practice and responsibility. Students are also introduced to teaming and leadership skills, and participate in hands-on projects using basic skills from various STEM disciplines.
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