Skyping with Rube Goldberg’s Granddaughter: Improving the Student Voice Experience

rubeworks skype (2)Our 2nd grade is in the midst of another amazing project. They are studying simple machines, force, and motion as a part of their science curriculum.  We kicked off this unit by tinkering with a Rube Goldberg iPad app called Rubeworks.  Students worked in pairs to problem solve the many parts each Rube Goldberg puzzle. We allowed an hour for this experience and students persevered through the entire hour and supported one another.  Students continued to use this app in class.

Next, students had the opportunity to Skype with David Fox, the creator of the RubeWorks app.  He told a lot about how the app was made as well as listened to what the students loved and what they were frustrated with while using the app.

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In class, students read the book Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee. They used lots of tools to construct their own “roller coasters” and test them out.  This is all leading up to students designing and creating their own Rube Goldberg invention.

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This year, I purchased a book called The Art of Rube Goldberg. This book contains numerous pieces of Goldberg’s artwork, which was mostly selected by his granddaughter, Jennifer George.  Students have enjoyed studying these illustrations in class.  All of the puzzles in the Rubeworks game are based on pieces of artwork, so studying these images also supports students figuring out the game puzzles.

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Using Skype in the Classroom, we scheduled a Skype with Jennifer George.  Ahead of the Skype, students spent time in class preparing questions to ask Jennifer George.  The second grade teachers and I have really been fine-tuning a process for our skype sessions, and it is proving to create some very rich experiences for our students.  Students wrote questions about Rube Goldberg based on their knowledge of him from the illustrations in the book, their experience with the app, their observations of Rube Goldberg inventions, and their own drawings of inventions.

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During our Skype, Jennifer George told us just a bit about Rube Goldberg and herself, but she left lots of room for questions.  It’s times like these, that I’m so glad that the 2nd grade teachers have developed their Skype process.  Students had prepared questions on index cards.  The teachers quickly passed them out and we made a line of students who were ready to ask a question.  Students took turns stepping to the webcam, saying their name, and asking their question.  They awaited Jennifer’s response, and then said “thank you” before sitting back down.  Our questions really carried the Skype conversation today.  Each time a student asked a question, Jennifer commented on what a great question it was.  Students asked things like:

  • Did you aspire to be like your grandfather?
  • Do you have any of Rube Goldberg’s artwork?
  • How many drawings did Rube Goldberg make?
  • Did you ever help your grandfather draw his art?

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Each question was met with an extended story that uncovered pieces of Jennifer George and Rube Goldberg’s life.  We even got to see a sculpture that Rube Goldberg had created.

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I love Skype experiences where students get to interact with the presenter.  It empowers students to be able to ask the questions that they are curious about and have their curiosities answered.  I’m so thankful for teachers that give students the space to prepare for interviewing a Skype guest.  These interview skills will only continue to improve and will be a skill that students will carry with them throughout their lives.

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The teachers and I all commented on how different this Skype was compared to last year’s Skype with Jennifer George.  The time to prepare, the time to think about questions that matter and connect, and the trust to allow students to lead the conversation made this a memorable experience for us all.

Using Skype in the Classroom to Connect with Rube Goldberg’s Granddaughter

jennifer george (4)Second grade has been studying force and motion as a part of their science standards.  We kicked off this unit in the library by learning about the inventions of Rube Goldberg and exploring the Rube Works app for iPad.

In class, students explored force and motion through a Picture Perfect Science lesson about roller coasters.  During this exploration, they learned key vocabulary and concepts for force and motion.  After exploring, they learned even more about force and motion through informational text.  Finally, students worked in collaborative groups to build their own Rube Goldberg invention.  During this process, students were able to apply many of the concepts and vocabulary that they learned through the other experiences.  I loved peering into their classrooms from time to time to watch them try to get their inventions to work.  I loved how they tried something, failed, and then tried again.  This is something we’ve had a lot of conversations about.

Today, thanks to Skype in the Classroom, students had the chance to Skype with Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter, Jennifer George.  If you haven’t taken a look at Skype in the Classroom, you should!  Teachers and guest speakers can post topics or lessons and classrooms can sign up to participate in those lessons.  Once you sign up, you go through a process of communicating with the creator of the lesson or topics in order to schedule your Skype connection.  Also, educators get a free Skype premium account for signing up.

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Our connection lasted from about 40 minutes.  During our time, Jennifer George shared some Rube Goldberg facts that only a granddaughter would know.  For example:

  • he wore shoes when he went swimming
  • he was always on time
  • he ate whip cream for dessert and when cool whip came out he ate it by the bowl
  • when he got his 1st car, there were only 12 cars in New York City

She talked about how Rube Goldberg never built the inventions that he drew, but many people have taken his drawings and built the machines or designed their own.  I loved how this fact fit in with our collaborative project and how each member of the team brings something different.

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We also loved meeting Jennifer’s cat.  The students couldn’t contain their excitement when the cat jumped up behind her on the counter.  Jennifer gave us a close up view of him.

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After Jennifer gave us some facts, she spent some time letting students ask questions.  They love to do this.  I loved how she listened to each student’s name and repeated it in her response.  It made the conversation connected and personal.

It was during these questions that we learned things like:

  • Rube Goldberg created over 50,000 cartoons
  • He started drawing when he was about the age of our 2nd graders
  • Jennifer is a fashion designer who has designed clothing for several big celebrities like Madonna and Aretha Franklin

The students really wanted to see some of Rube Goldberg’s drawings, but thankfully thankfully many of them are available in a new book called The Art of Rube Goldberg.  I think that students are going to be demanding that we get this book in our library.  Thank you Jennifer George for sharing the stories and inventions of your grandfather with us.   Thanks Skype in the Classroom for this fun time.  

You can learn more about Rube Goldberg at http://www.rubegoldberg.com/

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We have another Skype in the Classroom connection coming up soon with David Fox, developer of the Rube Works app that we have been playing.  We can’t wait!

Problem Solving and Science in Action with the Rube Works App

RubeWorks (2)Back in December, Kate Wright, 2nd grade teacher, told me that the grade level would be studying force, motion, pushes, pulls, and simple machines in the late part of 3rd quarter and they wanted to incorporate the art and inventions of Rube Goldberg.  It was a seed of an idea which I absolutely love.  I love when a seed is planted early enough that it has time to grow and expand with new opportunities.

Over the winter break, I had a follow on Twitter from Electric Eggplant , and in miraculous fashion, the seed idea began to develop.  Electric Eggplant is the developer of a new iPad app called Rube Works.  It’s the official invention game of Rube Goldberg.  I started having a Twitter conversation with them and found out that the app was on sale until the end of December.  I went ahead and purchased 30 copies knowing that it was going to be a perfect fit with the seed of an idea.

My Twitter conversation continued and I was connected with David Fox, the developer of Rube Works.  He agreed that once we got the project going, he would love to connect with us and see what the kids thought of the app.

Since that conversation, a page on Skype in the Classroom has been created for Rube Goldberg which includes the chance to Skype with David as well as Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter, Jennifer.  We added both of these to our growing seed of an idea.

RubeWorks (3)Over the past 2 days, the 2nd grade has been working in the library to use the Rube Works game.  This is a kickoff to their study of force, push, pull, and motion.  We started by watching some videos of Rube Goldberg inventions because most of the students had no idea who he was.  They were fascinated by the zany inventions to do simple, everyday things.  Some of them even launched into a brainstorm of what they would invent (which is coming as a part of our seed of an idea!)

Next, I showed students the Rube Works trailer.

They were eager to get started.  Because the Rube Works app has a reading component that does not have text to speech, the teachers paired students together so that a stronger reader was in each pair.  This helped lift this reading barrier for students, but it also gave students a brainstorming partner.  Students quickly saw that creating a Rube Goldberg invention is not a piece of cake.  It takes trial and error, risk taking, failure, problem solving, perseverance, working through frustration, and creativity to make these inventions work.  In our 35-40 minutes of work time, most pairs managed to finish the first scenario and some made great progress on the 2nd.  A few even made it to the 3rd level.

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Even though there were moments where students could be heard saying, “This is so frustrating!” and “I just can’t get this to work!”, I didn’t see a single group stop working.  I overheard one student say, “I thought first levels were supposed to be easy!”, but she didn’t give up.  When we gathered back on the floor, we talked about how we all get frustrated, but it’s what we do with that frustration that matters.  The teachers brought up a classroom discussion that they have been having with students about perseverance, and this was such a great connection to help them feel what it’s like to persevere through something even when it’s hard. It was so rewarding to students be successful after multiple attempts.

I encouraged students to keep their solutions a secret but to feel free to give one another hints, which is yet another skill that we pulled into this lesson.  We wanted every person to work to figure out these puzzles without someone just giving away the solution.  Students didn’t want to quit after our hour together and they are eager to continue working with this app in their classroom.

When I asked students and teachers about some things that they love, they mentioned things like:

  • clear instructions
  • hints
  • the ability to test your invention multiple times along the way
  • that the app shows you the actual drawing that Rube Goldberg made after you finish a level
  • that it was challenging but fun

We look forward to continuing to explore this app and incorporate what we’ve learned into our own Rube Goldberg inventions.

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