What do an orange pool float, a handful of paper cups, a random assortment of DVDs and two marbles all have in common? Nothing, unless you’re a camper at the Bay Village library’s Crazy Contraption Camp. Then the possibilities are endless.
“The process of design thinking and problem solving is something that can be developed without the campers knowing that they’re doing it,“ said Matt Skvasik the innovation programming specialist for the Cuyahoga County Public Library system, which includes the Bay Village branch. “They’re getting to tear something apart; they’re getting to be interactive and creative and this camp allows them to do all of that.”
Eight inventors of different ages took part in the free camp, which ran July 15-18. They worked together with a simple mission: Combine any object given to them by the library to make a working machine, known as a Rube Goldberg.
These complicated gadgets are made to do simple tasks. First created in the early 1900s by Rube Goldberg, these machines were originally cartoons made for his local newspaper in San Francisco. Eventually these cartoons caught on and gained popularity throughout the country until the Merriam-Webster dictionary added “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective.
However, what seems like a silly goal actually teaches these campers the fundamental building blocks of engineering, mathematics and technology, a perfect complement to the STEAM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) offered by the county.
“If you look at all of the different principles that the kids are going through in terms of what they can learn through STEAM, they’re really learning about simple machines working as a team and various engineering principles,” said Jessica Breslin, branch manager of the Bay Village library. “It really checks all of the boxes in terms of the active engaged learning we hope for in the library.”
Campers also learned how to use tools such as drills, hammers and saws, opening up new possibilities for their future.
“I really liked using the tools and I found out that I’m a lot handier than I actually thought I was,” said Jackson Robert West, 12, who was initially reluctant to join the camp. “After this camp, I’m going to try and do more things with saws and glue and try to make some more stuff. It’s kind of fun to see what you can make and not buy at the store and see if you can do it better.”
Originally the camp was open to both adults and kids, but coordinators of the event noticed that adults were having a tougher time coming up with ideas for the machines.
“The adults were really stifled by what they thought was possible,” Skvasik said. “Kids’ ideas are much bigger because they haven’t formed what they think they can or can’t do.”
After four two-hour sessions filled with awkward jokes, plenty of references to video games and television shows, retro video game music playing in the background and mistake after mistake, the campers finally had their machine.
“I really liked how there are almost no limits besides the supplies you have access to,” Jackson said. “Everything has a little more of a meaning than you first think, to it. You don’t think of a back scratcher as a hand grenade pin that can release something and make something else happen.”
On Saturday, the young inventors will compete with campers from Solon, Berea, Brooklyn and North Olmsted at the Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road. Awards haven’t been announced, but past prizes have included gold screwdrivers and gold goggles.
Campers will have three and a half hours to reassemble their machine, which they will present to judges and explain why they should pick it.
The judges and a referee will grade each machine on design, spirit of Rube Goldberg and how well the team worked together. The referee will look for things such as how many materials the machine uses, if it has seven steps or seven transfers of energy and if it works consistently.
The event begins at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
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