Virtual Machines: Final Projects

Over the last few weeks, our grade 8 students have been working on virtual Rube Goldberg Machines, using a physics simulator called Phun.

For the assessment of the work, the teachers really wanted to focus on the students’ understanding of the various simple machines they were expected to build into their complex machine. With that in mind, the students were asked to create voice-over narrations of their machines – being asked to explain how the different machines combined and transferred the energy through the system.
One of the advantages of creating these machines with digital rather than real world tools, is that students are immediately working with the scientific concepts at the heart of the project. Within minutes of opening the program, students were testing, modifying, tinkering and working with their machines. While there is something important about having students build physical models, the disadvantage is that students are limited to whatever objects that can locate, and often spend more time on the building than on the scientific understanding. However, by designing the work in Phun students are able to play with a much wider range of gear ratios and different materials than they would have been able to had they been building a real life machine.
Having looked at a large number of these student projects, what is interesting is the range of creative solutions that the students built into their machines. Phun allows student to experiment with a number of materials including rubber, helium, glass, stone and water. While the core of the project revolved around students demonstrating their understanding of 6 simple machines, they were offered limitless creativity in how they would combine the tools and the task their simple machine would perform.
The program Phun was a free download – but due to the complexity of the machines our students designed, the program quickly became laggy. Many of the student machine bogged down and were very difficult to complete. However, both the students and teachers demonstrated an incredible amount of perseverance in completing the designs. The teachers are very committed to continuing this project next year – and we’re looking at purchasing Algodoo for next year – the paid version of this program.
Throughout the project, and despite the laggyness of the program, students demonstrated a strong engagement in the work. Many students went home and immediately invested a great deal of time in learning and experimenting with the program. Students repeated asked to work on the machines – we are really excited about the potential classroom uses moving forward.
One student in particular was interviewed about the project – and mentioned that he wanted to continue worked on his design. He also commented that this was one of the only projects in school that has ever inspired him to continue working on it way past the due date.

What a strong recommendation for the project!
To complete the project, each student created two videos: (1) their final machine with a sound track, and (2) their final video with a voice-over narration explaining their scientific understanding.
Below are four videos, there are two students examples (with each of the two videos).



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