Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist whose name has become synonymous with elaborate, entertaining contraptions with lots of moving parts. The Science Department and Center for Leadership hosted the competition, inviting teams of four to devise, create and operate complex machines to perform the simple task of ringing a bell. Each contraption required a minimum of 10 steps, and entrants were judged on a wide range of criteria.
The challenge is part of an ongoing strategy to broaden St. Luke's robust science culture. Students can now work toward a STEM diploma. It requires four years of math, four years of science (including Introduction to Engineering), Introduction to Computer Science and Robotics or Java Programming, an advanced placement course in two of the STEM disciplines: calculus, computer science, physics, biology, and/or chemistry. Students must also conduct a year-long research project in an approved field of study. In June, St. Luke's will honor its first two STEM Scholars: Kyle DeViney of Wilton, who will study Engineering at Bucknell University, and Sam Posner of New Canaan, who will study digital media -- in the context of critical theory and computer science -- at Pomona.
Inventor Rube Goldberg plays into the serious picture of academics at St. Luke's by takeing the lessons out of the classroom and into the real world.
"It's experiential learning at its best," Jim Foley, director of the Center for Leadership, said.
Teams were judged on the flow and function of the contraptions. Extra points were given to those that did not require human intervention during the course of the run. This awakened the "inner scientist/mathematician."
"Within the classroom students can easily lose sight of why it is important to learn algebra or physics, yet when they approached the competition they ended up using those learned skills," Michael Mitchell, science chairman at St. Luke's, said. "A team could have easily thrown a few parts together and completed the task, but many groups found that a few simple calculations -- such as using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the missing side of a triangle -- were much more efficient than trial and error."
Presentation skills were also tapped. Teams were judged on descriptions of their entries that included drawings and diagrams. Collaboration was also key.
"There is no predetermined course. Four members on each team had four different ideas; four different sets of abilities; four different approaches to turn those ideas into reality," Foley said.
Rube Goldberg contraptions are supposed to entertain, so entries were evaluated for Theme, and `Rube Goldberg Spirit.'
"The idea of a theme helps showcase the playful curiosity that every true Rube Goldberg machine hopes to capture," Mitchell said.
Jim Foley agreed.
"Good scientists have a sense of play. We wanted to emphasize how important that is in solving a problem, engineering a solution.
Teams coalesced based on common interests, and even common genetics. In addition to students, parents and grandparents were eligible. The entire St. Luke's community was free to participate: faculty, administrators and alumni.
After an-all school assembly that included demonstrations by 15 teams, the judges selected a Star Wars-themed contraption as the winner. It successfully rang a bell while taking the viewer through the complete first Star Wars movie trilogy: episodes IV, V and VI. Each member walked away with a brand new iPad. St. Luke's senior Colin McIntire of Darien was part of the winning team,