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The Great Maker Challenge

by Guest Blogger

The Great Maker Challenge at White Oak Middle School was an opportunity for students to use their imagination and critical thinking skills to create a Rube Goldberg-inspired machine. To introduce the students to chain reaction machines, we viewed Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap Machine and the Square Peg in a Round Hole clip from Apollo 13. The students learned from Audri that chain reactions do not always work the first time, but persistence pays off in the end. I wanted students to know that solving problems and inventing applies in the real world.

On the Apollo 13 mission, engineers at NASA had to fix a serious carbon dioxide build-up due to a faulty filter. The only replacement filters available were the wrong shape; thus, the square peg in a round hole problem. According to Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option.” NASA worked with the supplies available to the astronauts and found a solution to the problem.Great Maker Challenge Supplies

I asked the same of our teams at WOMS. The students’ task was to build a chain reaction machine to pop a balloon. All teams received the same set of supplies (listed on her website). During the planning process, the teams created drawings and blueprints to guide them.

Interested in having a maker space in your classroom or campus? Attend the TCEA Makers workshop in Austin September 23. This hands-on day of learning will let you experience the making process and learn how to set up a successful maker space or event for your students. You’ll walk away with resources and ideas for hosting 12 different maker stations with both tech and non-tech activities.

Popping a balloon was a simple task, right? The fun began as
students made their ideas come to life. They constructed every aspect of the machines and were able to troubleshoot problems that arose. Once the machines were assembled, engineers Terrence Kelley and Jeramy Hayes from Norris Cylinder Company took time to visit with every team and offer advice.

Great Maker Challenge ExampleThe teams spent their lunch time imagining, creating, solving problems, tinkering, and exploring their capabilities. Every team worked up until the deadline to make their machine a success. We even had a home entry from our friends the Curry family.

Lessons learned from the Great Maker Challenge:

  • Working together is about compromise.
  • Failing is okay; giving up is not.
  • Perseverance pays off.


Michelle is the librarian and a tech geek at White Oak Middle School. She is the TCEA 2016 Library Media Specialist of the Year and the co-founder of #TXLChat. This Twitter chat occurs each Tuesday evening at 8:00 CST. Her personal Twitter handle is @_MichelleCooper. Check out her blog for more details on the Great Maker Challenge here.  


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