New Books on Contraptions

There are three new books we’ve added to our week when we talk about Contraptions and Rube Goldbergs (one of the final sessions of our Engineering unit in my class for 3 to 6 year olds.)

The first is a non-fiction book called Crazy Contraptions: Build Rube Goldberg Machines that Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel: with Hands-On Engineering Activities by Perdew, illustrated by Racuch, 2019. It includes a brief biography of Goldberg, a description of the Engineering Design process, hands-on experiments with ideas like Newton’s first law of motion, and it has an overview of Simple Machines. It also includes several hands-on design challenges. Each activity identifies a challenge and includes a diagram of one possible solution. But the text is definitely not prescriptive – it doesn’t ever say that the solution in the picture is the only solution. Instead, it suggests a variety of materials, suggests ways to make things more challenging, and gives you questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your design.

The text is aimed at 9 – 12 year olds, so too high level for my class, but great  for older kids. I really like the approach of the contraption challenges. Here is the first (most basic) challenge in the book.

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Here’s a more complicated challenge near the end of the book, which uses components kids have used before, as they built a repertoire of skills.

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I’ve been thinking I want to re-design our curriculum for this week. We’ve tended to just put out materials and have kids play with them. But, with this book as inspiration, I’m thinking that next year, I want to create a series of “challenges” at each station, where kids are challenged to complete a goal. We have a photograph to show them one solution and will put related materials out. They can choose to re-create our solution, or innovate with the available materials.

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Aronson and Neubecker, 2019. This is a biography, which starts out with Rube as a boy, talks about how he became an engineer, then left that field to go into cartooning. It includes fun illustrations of Rube Goldberg devices and is an engaging story about the creative process. We read this aloud in group time. It would be best for 7 – 9 year olds, but our 3 – 6 year olds handled it OK, although I did shorten the text in a couple places.

Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day by George and Steckley, 2017. Fictional tale that imagines if Rube Goldberg were a child who invented ridiculously complex contraptions to help him get started on his day – with toothbrushing, breakfast, and so on. Fun, engaging story with lots of detailed RG style illustrations of the contraptions. Good for 6 -9 year olds. My 9 year old really enjoyed reading it. We didn’t read it in class, because we preferred the biography of the real Rube Goldberg, but this would be an enjoyable supplement for the bookshelf.

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