I know you’ve been dying to know how our falling pendulum project is going. Well, cats and kittens, I’m happy to report we worked on it all morning yesterday and called it success. First off, as discussed, we cut a new board and replaced the sweepy piece. The cool bit about the new straight zigzag is that it looked like Harry Potter’s scar. Since this piece of our Rube Goldberg is dedicated to the Harry Potter story (broomstick a’flying), this was an Exciting Discovery.
Unfortunately, the new piece of plywood wasn’t quite as wide as the original, so the incline of the zigzag turned out to be a bit steeper than we had intended. This ended up being a problem. But here we are before we knew it would be a problem, all so very proud of our construction skills.
Here’s what happened:
It just went down too quickly. There was no pendulum action to speak of, and it looked messy. We hrumphed. Ian got super frustrated and had to take a break. But Eva and I carried on, brainstorming possible solutions. Generated ideas included cutting a new board to decrease the incline, increasing friction somehow, and decreasing the weight of the broom. We decided that the most effective option was to cut a new board. But we also wanted to move past this portion of the Rube Goldberg. So we chose what we felt was the second-best (and quicker) option: decrease the weight of the broom.
Eva is a Harry Potter fanatic, and like any witch worth her salt, she owns more than one flying broom. Her second broom is a wooden dowel bound with twigs. We weighed it and discovered it was a good 11 ounces lighter than the plastic broom. We switched it out. We also switched out our heavy wooden pendulum arm for a much lighter picture frame and hot glued a small plastic ring on one end. We then used green yarn to keep it from sliding down the dowel. You just need to see it:
At this point, Ian was working on a music theory assignment, with a small black cloud looming over his head. He can’t stand not being able to figure something out right away, so he had switched to a topic that he felt he had more control over. But Eva and I were not to be deterred, so after lightening the counterweight bucket and giving everything one last cinching, we took off! And here it goes!
Sorry for my loud “woo hoo.” I can’t seem to help myself. Though the end result was not as graceful as had first imagined, we decided that it was good enough to be considered a success. In the final project, the broom will knock over something when it reaches its destination. Of course we’ll have to create something else to get it going to begin with. All to come. We still have 5 weeks to work on this.
And what about poor Ian? This lesson led into a wonderful momma-son discussion about the importance of problem solving. Ian is incredibly bright, and concepts come to him with remarkable ease. There is not much in the way of academics that he struggles with, and when he does hit a snag, he gets down down down. I told him that though his memorization and comprehension abilities knock my socks off, the more important skill here is to think creatively about how you use the facts at hand. This is how new technologies get invented. It will be how we figure out what to do about this climate change mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. So many problems don’t have instruction manuals; we have to create new solutions to these unprecedented issues. This is difficult for Ian, who likes to master something at his first go. I told him (again) that the point of doing the Rube Goldberg isn’t the finished product, but all the fabulous, infuriating toe-stumpers along the way. It’s the process that we’re learning from here.
He nodded and said he understood. But I think this is a life lesson for him, which will need to be re-experienced one zillion more times in the coming years.