Ever hear of a Rube Goldberg machine? It’s an elaborate contraption that’s as fun to build as it is to use, and a team from Sanford Middle School just won the district’s very first wild and wacky Rube Goldberg Competition.
Four dedicated students from Sanford Middle School took the top award in Seminole County Public Schools’ first ever Rube Goldberg Competition. What exactly is a Rube Goldberg Competition, you ask? Named for cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg, machines that bear his name attempt to solve a simple task in the most complicated, inefficient, and hilarious way possible. Think of the elaborate apparatus from the old board game Mouse Trap.
Sanford Middle School hosted the inaugural competition, which was arranged by Stan Palmer. Students were tasked to create a zany contraption that would – eventually – turn the page of a book. Courtney Friedman, Sanford Middle’s science and pre-veterinary medicine teacher, led the school’s all-female team, which included Armitha Gagganapally, Adya Gulati, Zuri Henderson, and Sydney Stresen-Rueter.
“I have the advantage of teaching many of my students for all three years in the pre-vet program,” says Courtney. “So I chose four girls who I knew would step it up and get the work done.”
Machines in the competition had to feature a theme and include seven different transfers of energy. Since the Sanford Middle teammates were all in the pre-vet program, they decided they would use a zoo theme to showcase the school’s partnership with the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.
“This partnership allows for our class to visit the zoo every other Wednesday,” says Sydney, one of the students on the team. “We believed that a zoo theme could represent our passion for animals and showcase what we have learned from the zoo.”
The girls were also required to write an essay to explain the transfers of energy and how each applied to the theme. They described several duties that zookeepers must perform to ensure their animals receive excellent care. In the machine, each transfer of energy represented the keepers performing a duty throughout the zoo before opening for guests. The turning of the page at the end signified the opening of the zoo.
“They ran with it,” says Courtney. “The way they came up with how each transfer of energy represented each part of the zoo was really unique. I would have never come up with it.”
The final machine was constructed of plywood, piping, Jenga pieces, a pulley, tape, marbles, and wood pieces, among other items.
“Once we had the plan, we connected each machine to a different task that a zookeeper would complete throughout
the zoo, like cleaning a habitat,” says Sydney. “From there, we added on several animals that we created out of clay.”
While Courtney assisted with the design and some heavier hardware construction, the team took the lead.
“They are hard workers who love science, and they’re passionate about creating things,” Courtney says.
The girls began the project in March. They met after school for two hours twice a week and met during lunches to work on their machine.
“At first, we felt like we would be the underdogs of the competition,” recalls Courtney.
Sydney agrees. “We were definitely nervous going into the competition,” she says. “We had spent a lot of time and effort on our machine and really wanted to win.”
The girls’ combination of creativity, work ethic, and determination delivered the big victory.
“As a team, they persevered through the highs and lows of the design process and had fun while doing it,” says Courtney. “I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Sanford Middle team won first place overall and also received a top award for its creativity. The girls plan to use their prize – tickets to the Orlando Science Center – for a summer trip.
“We were exhilarated when we learned that we had won,” says Sydney. “We were proud of ourselves because this competition was definitely out of our comfort zone.”
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