October 30, 2013 12:00AM
Students at Pittsburg State University and Pittsburg High School squared off this week in an elaborate and unique game of miniature golf. This match, however, did not feature any golf clubs or holes, and the course wasn’t a course at all.
It was really just a bunch of toys.
“They’re educational toys,” said Mike Neden, associate professor in Pitt State’s technology and workforce learning department. "These are materials that are changing in many ways the way we teach STEM concepts."
The courses, built by PSU and PHS students, were constructed using the Rokenbok System, a remote control and construction system for STEM learning. Using Rokenbok materials, students built complex courses through which golf balls maneuver. The objective for the students was to build the course in a way that ensures that the ball hits a pin at the end of the course.
“The only catch is that we’ve designed and built remote controlled obstacles that we can use to block the balls from making it through the course,” said PSU junior Tyler Britt. “That’s where the competition comes in. It was a lot of fun to see what the high school students came up with and how well we it all worked together.”
Neden said the activity was a Rube Goldberg project, which is named for a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor and author best known for his unique inventions. A Rube Goldberg contraption – an elaborate set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups and rods, put in motion by balls, canary cages, pails, boots, bathtubs, paddles and live animals – takes a simple task and makes it “extraordinarily complicated.”
Neden said Rube Goldberg projects are often used to teach STEM concepts.
“It’s an effective way to get students thinking and designing outside of the box,” Neden said. “It challenges their minds, and there is a lot of education that happens during these projects.”