6th Grade Science : Unit #4 - Energy : Lesson #5

Using Rube Goldberg Simulation to Demonstrate Understanding of Energy Transformations

Objective: SWBAT: Build functioning Rube Goldberg contraptions that deepen understanding of energy transformations
Standards: MS-PS3-5 MS-ETS1-1 MS-ETS1-2 MS-ETS1-3 MS-ETS1-4 SP1 SP2 SP6
Subject(s): Science
60 minutes
1 Overview - 0 minutes

Now that students have discovered the concepts of energy transformations, I want to give them the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the different types of transformations and have a little fun along the way.

Students use this simulation of a Rube Goldberg device, which successfully captures a burglar. As students try various designs, they are identifying the transformations that are occurring to help solidify understanding of the Law of Conservation of Energy. Upon completing that activity, students begin the second Rube Goldberg simulation, which has students design a device that is inspired by the classic Tom and Jerry Cartoon.  

Depending on time, you may have to start this part of the lesson on day 2. Students design a contraption that successfully captures Jerry, based off of the game Mousetrap. This lesson sets out to build understanding towards MS-PS3-5, which focuses on energy transferred to or from an object. Students develop SP1 (Defining Problems) as they identify the challenge of designing a solution to the problem of capturing the burglar in this simulation. SP6 (Designing Solutions) will be bolstered as students design solutions to each challenge. However, the main focus is for students to accurately identify the energy transformations taking place between each part of the Rube Goldberg contraption.

P.E.O.E. is utilized in each activity to provide structure and help keep students focused on the rigor in each lesson, based on building understanding of energy transformations and the design process.


Providing Structure

Cookie cutter lessons that have predetermined outcomes are frowned upon in the NGSS, because they steer students. The importance of providing structure in an inquiry-based classroom is important, however. If we want students to test ideas and find connections we must determine the best strategies to elicit those ideas and integrate them into the fabric of our classes.  

Using Predict, Explain, Observe, Explain (P.E.O.E.) provides students with a clear procedure that asks them to predict and then reflect on their original ideas.  Science isn't just about getting the right answer, it is about testing ideas and learning from them. Without this structure, students would have very little data recorded in their notes, resulting in a shallow understanding of this scientific phenomena associated with energy transformations. The data collected will later be used to develop a deep understanding energy, which would not be possible without the intentional incorporation of specific strategies into this lesson.

2 Using FOSS Simulation to Reinforce and Assess Student Understanding of Energy Transformation - 30 minutes

Students are asked to make the Rube Goldberg contraption function by having all the parts work together so that the dog attacks the burglar. Students should use this link for the lesson.

As students are trying different iterations of the design, they can think about the energy transformations that occur between each part. This will assist in deepening understanding of transformations, as well as help student realize that there are many different types of energy that make work possible.

As students are working on this aspect of the lesson, I circulate around the room asking clarifying questions. For instance, if I notice that a student is misidentifying the type of energy transformation, I guide them through the process of looking through their notes to find the correct transformation.

This is also a good time to clarify the difference between forms of energy. For example, if a student incorrectly identifies a form of energy as electromagnetic, but it's actually thermal, we can discuss the difference and help my students see the difference. Remember -- learning happens over time, so celebrate mistakes and support your students along the way.

3 Checking for Understanding Using Student Responses to Simulation - 10 minutes

As students are working on the simulations, they were recording observations and outcomes. Now that students have completed the simulation, it is important to have them share their thoughts within their groups. Since you won't be able to check in with every student during the previous stage, this is a great time to have students discuss what type of energy transformations are taking place. As you circulate, you can then have a conversation with 4-5 students, as opposed to 1 or 2, maximizing your ability to connect with your students and clarify anything.

As that process comes to a conclusion, I review the ideas with the class as a whole, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to hear other students' ideas, which we will continue to investigate in future lesson.