Students build Goldberg devices for Wacky Engineering

Eddie Sulberg-Hale, 9, of Bowling Green, watches as Ben Davenport, 8, works on his Rube Goldberg machine on Tuesday during the Science Curiosity Investigation Camp at the WKU Planetarium. Luke Franke/HERALD

Andrew Henderson

Cardboard boxes lined the windows of Hardin Planetarium on Tuesday morning. The white domed building was full of young students with dreams in their heads and tools in their hands. Rolls of tape and paper towel rolls were strewn about the floor of the planetarium, with balls and marbles rolling in every direction on the floor. Young students worked diligently with makeshift hammers and strung up cups as they began the day’s journey into engineering.

The students were settling in to day two of Science Curiosity Investigation Camp. The program, themed and referred to as Wacky Engineering, was held at Hardin Planetarium this week, during Warren County School System’s fall break, for students in third through sixth grade. Nineteen students came out to explore their creativity in the sciences.

Ronn Kistler, Hardin Planetarium coordinator, and Richard Gelderman, director of the planetarium, oversaw the program. 

This week, the participants are working on constructing Rube Goldberg devices.

“Rube Goldberg was a 1900s cartoonist who was famous for drawing cartoonish depictions of a series of complicated steps that ended up doing something very simple. For instance, scratching your back,” Kistler said. 

Kistler said that every day the students have a new goal to accomplish with their machines. On Tuesday, the students were required to use three of  six simple machines to get a bell to ring. They could construct their machine any way they wished, so long as they used three simple machines such as a lever, pulley or incline plane.

“They have to draw out a plan for their machine, write out in words and describe how it will work, and then have it approved,” Kistler said, referring to the process of constructing one of the machines. 

He said the main goal of Wacky Engineering is not so much critical thinking and problem solving, although those are two skills students will take away from this.

“The main goal for these students as budding scientists and engineers is to learn that failure is an option and that you’re going to get it wrong and have to retest it and do it over again,” Kistler said. “We want to teach them not to let one failure get them down.”

Gelderman echoed Kistler’s sentiments regarding the program.

“Our original thought for the program was to call it ‘try, try, try again’, but that was too long and wouldn’t fit on the flyers,” Gelderman said. 

Gelderman wants the camp’s young engineers to have good planning, designing and testing skills, and feel comfortable to do it all over again if necessary. Gelderman also said that Wacky Engineering is about perseverance and encouraging the students’ natural imaginations and dreams into something functional.

“Science is creativity, science is an art,” Gelderman said.

Evan Simone, a fourth grader from Bristow Elementary, displayed Gelderman’s aforementioned creativity with the building of his machine on Tuesday, and works to display it out in his everyday life as well.

“I like to build,” he said. “At my grandparents’ house I’m building a chair from some of the larger tree branches that have fallen down around their house.” 

Simone shared that he one day wishes to be a car designer and is inspired by the accomplishments of his dad and grandfather.

Ellery Brown, fourth grader from Plano Elementary, was the first student to have successfully constructed her machine and ring her bell. She rolled a marble down a ramp, hit a ball into a cup, had the cup lowered down by pulley and had the ball knock down domino pieces in order to get the familiar ring of her bell. 

Brown is already accustomed to building machines such as these as she takes after her father’s lead, who works in a related field. 

“It’s boring to watch someone else make something when you can do it yourself, and if you can’t do it the first time then you just try again,” she said.

Wacky Engineering also had several high school volunteers assist with the program.

Abby Willgruber, a Greenwood High School junior, was volunteering for the program because it provided her service hours for BETA and Science club, but she was also volunteering for more personal reasons.

“Since I was young I’ve loved science. Being able to work with these kids and see the ideas click in their head and come together is something I’ve loved,” Willgruber said. 

Ultimately, Gelderman wants these students to take away the philosophy of measure twice, cut once and to persevere through your failures. 

The planetarium offers science camps for grades three through six during the spring and fall breaks and during the summer holidays. 

For more information, check out their website: