Setting off a chain reaction

Photo by Michael Johnson

Twin Lakes High School sophomore Courtney Crowther, right, works with “science buddy” Charlie Anderson, a third-grade Meadowlawn Elementary School student, in building a Rube Goldberg machine in Jill Gilford’s class.

MONTICELLO — Student in Jill Gilford’s earth space science classes at Twin Lakes High School experienced chain reactions this week — in the scientific and social sense.

Titled “Pay it Forward Day,” students in each of Gilford’s classes built a Rube Goldberg machine in a STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) exercise to teach students about the scientific method and “cause and effect,” as well as chain reactions.

Named after its inventor and cartoonist, it’s a machine intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way. Usually, these machines consist of a series of simple unrelated devices; the action of each triggers the initiation of the next, eventually resulting in achieving a stated goal.

The students, mostly sophomores, paired with a “Science Buddy” from Meadowlawn Elementary School to help build the contraption. The students, separated into several groups, worked on portions of the Rube Goldberg machine in hopes of tying it all together.

The students went through a couple of practice runs, then attempted to make it all happen with one cohesive chain reaction.

“The day was very hectic, but it was so neat to see the kids’ smiles,” said student Alicia London. “It made me light up and made my day to get a hug from my buddy. Seeing all the kids happy made me happy. It teaches them a life skill of once you receive something, pass it on to someone else.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that we get to continue to do this project,” said student Cyrus Allen. “The kids seem to enjoy it every year.”

Gilford’s Rube Goldberg machine exercise was tied to acts of kindness and how students can “pay it forward.” TLHS students started the process by performing random acts of kindness and passing on a “Pay it Forward” card. Gilford said she expects it to “pour out into the community and not stay within our school walls.”

“This project teaches so many concepts, not only science related, but it reiterates so many life skills as well,” she said. “It allows the kids to see how we are all connected and how our actions impact others around us.”

The earth science students also gave their assigned science buddy a wrapped STEM-related gift — a Lego building play set — as a Christmas gift. After talking about how a Rube Goldberg machine and “Paying it Forward” can both be chain reactions, the elementary science buddies were given a second wrapped gift and asked to “pay it forward” by giving it to another student in one of the first-, second-, third- or fourth-grade classes at Meadowlawn.

“The students who receive the gift will hopefully continue to pay it forward and keep the chain reaction going,” Gilford said.

The service learning project was made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of White County.

“I appreciate the generosity of so many donors through the Community Foundation of White County that allows us to continue to pay it forward each holiday season,” Gilford said. “The results of this program/experience will impact many students from Twin Lakes School Corporation and many others in our community.”