Building a Better Mousetrap

By PCY Assistant Principal, Carrie Hetzel

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At PCY our 5th-grade students have been spending their Computer Lab time studying Rube Goldberg and competing in their very own Rube Goldberg Mousetrap STEM Challenge!  They have been working under the guidance of Kristine Babish (Elementary Science Aide), Katy Tafoya (Instructional Computer Specialist), and the PCY 5th grade teachers and thoroughly enjoying this cross-curricular project. The goal for the Rube Goldberg Mousetrap STEM Challenge is to encourage critical thinking and problem solving in a student led, non-traditional learning environment, and of course, have fun in the process.

The Assignment:
The project involves 6 weeks of studying, planning, and building a mousetrap with five working components and presenting it to their peers on the final day of the project.  Students had a $50.00 imaginary budget to purchase supplies, such as: 

  • Play-doh
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Tennis balls
  • Plastic food containers
  • Wide and narrow popsicle sticks
  • Wire
  • Plastic and foam chips
  • Egg cartons

Let me offer you some background. Reuben Lucius Goldberg (Rube Goldberg) was born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883. After graduating from Berkeley with a degree in engineering, Rube went on to work as an engineer for the City of San Francisco Water and Sewers Department. After six months, Rube left the Sewers Department and began to work in the sports department of a San Francisco newspaper. While there he began to submit drawings and cartoons to the editor until he was finally published. He eventually became a founding member of the National Cartoonist Society, a political cartoonist and a Pulitzer Prize winner.  He was best known for his “inventions.” Rube’s early years as an engineer informed his most acclaimed work, namely a Rube Goldberg Contraption. Such contraptions were often comprised of elaborate sets of arms, wheels, gears, etc., and took a simple tasks and made them extraordinarily complicated -  imagine a Self-Operating Napkin, which was just one of his hilariously depicted drawings. Rube did not build the machines he drew, but his cartoons have become an inspiration to aspiring engineers and scientists across the world.

Students building a mousetrap

To prepare for their task, 5th graders spent some time learning about Rube Goldberg and the STEM challenge. The next step, which was playing Mousetrap, a board game, and Infinite Cat a mouse-trap-type game on the computer, all designed to spark ideas and get students thinking about different types of design.  Next, they proceeded to the drawing board. The students worked in small groups to come up with ideas for their models.  Finally, this week in the Computer Lab the groups will put finishing touches on their designs, which will be ready to build soon after. Each group will set up their mouse trap in the multi-purpose room along with their classmates. Once the traps are built, the students will test their traps, record data and results, and find out  if their trap really works. Each class will take a turn with the challenge. Mr. Hajak’s class, who will get the last turn, will have the students’ work on display for Open House this year.  All are invited to stop by to see their amazing work.