Domino effects: LMS students learning through teamwork

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Patrick Kennedy, left, and Brittany Garrard, right, point to where the marble starts and subsequently hits a toy car.

At Marshall County's Spot Lowe Technology Center, some of Danny Pickle's students have permission to make cell-phone calls during class.

Two mobile phones are the link from one table to another to continue a chain of convoluted events that ultimately lead to a mousetrap that bursts a balloon.

It's part of the students' technology-related education, and therefore it justifies use of a cell phone in class, according to Lyn Stacey, director of career and technology education programs in the county school system.

Pickle is a Lewisburg Middle School teacher with students in a "Gateway to Technology" class that's conducted at the Technology Center just across a parking lot from LMS. There's more room at the Technology Center for construction of the whimsical devices, and so that's where they conduct the class.

This month, Pickle's students have been constructing Rube Goldberg machines. Goldberg was an American cartoonist who designed complex ways to do something simple.

Pickle's students were admitted to the class based on their grade-point average. They've also got leadership qualities that emerge and recede as they cooperate toward their ultimate goal - the balloon burst.

"We do engineering-related things to prepare them for jobs that don't exist now," Pickle said.

Basic machines are part of the link of one event connected to another to continue kinetic energy toward the balloon. Those simple machines are: wheel and axle; a lever; the screw; inclined planes; and a pulley.

Patrick Kennedy, son of Barbara and David Kennedy of Franklin Pike, is one of two boys in the afternoon class.

He conceded that he'd rather grow up to be a Rube Goldberger instead of a hamburger flipper, but on his serious side, the 14-year-old hopes to be an architect-engineer after college.

Classmate Brittany Garrard, 13, daughter of Tina Garrard of Hill Street, wants to be a cosmetologist "because I like doing hair," she said.

"This stuff is OK," Garrard continued. "It gives me a lot to think about. I think I've created something that nobody else could create."

Jaliqua Sanders, 13, daughter of Kimberly Young and Mark Sanders of 5th Avenue, explained how on one table a big marble is released toward the eventual forcing of a pencil's eraser to press a call button on Brooks Leftwich's cell phone.

It called Kennedy's phone and the next Rube Goldberg machine is started.

Leftwich is the son of Beth Stockwell and Mike Leftwich.

"I'm so proud of Brooks' accomplishments," Stockwell said. "He continues to amaze me with his creative ideas and desire to do well in school."

As for the Gateway to Technology program, she said, "It's wonderful that the middle school students have the opportunity to be exposed to these engineering, design and computer classes at this age. It will open their eyes to all of the employment opportunities out there since the job market continues to become high tech. Mr. Stacey and Mr. Pickle are to be commended for their commitment to this program."

During a Friday afternoon visit, it was clear that the Rube Goldberg machines were capable of working, but there were mishaps. Most often, that was because someone bumped the table and dominos fell.

On Monday afternoon, Patrick Kennedy called to say that the two gizmos connected by mobile phones "did, eventually, end up working...

"The first time, the balloon didn't pop, but the second time it did."

Friday morning, other students -- in another class taught by Pickle -- were trying to make another balloon pop.

Those students included Tiffany Stanford, 14, daughter of Beth and Scotty Stanford of South Berlin Road, and Shelby Smith, 14, daughter of Carrie and Scott Smith of Franklin Pike.

At least one of the balloons was being filled with confetti.

"That's not easy," Pickle said.

Smith explained that the Rube Goldberg machine she was working on was designed so that the balloon would be popped by a pencil tip.

"We're going to sharpen it," Stanford said.

Cooperation is one of the lessons.

"The big advantage of this program is that it requires students to work as teams," Stacey said. "In most classes, that's called cheating, but in real life, they've got to work with other people."

In real life, they may have to rely on cell phones if their landline phone fails.