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Some of the best learning opportunities occur when you don’t plan for them. Fourth grade students in Michelle Smietana’s class were so engaged in a science lesson that she decided to keep things rolling – literally. “We had been talking about collisions and energy transfers, and the students were really picking up on it. I thought a Rube Goldberg machine would be a great way to demonstrate what we were talking about,” explains Ms. Smietana. “It wasn’t in the plan, but I thought, well, we have the time, we have all the materials we need right in our classroom, and we have students who are excited right now to learn more.”

Students formed groups and each group approached the project in its own way. They used rulers, books, marbles, erasers, duct tape and other items in their classroom for the impromptu activity.

I tried to sit back and let them run with it, says Ms. Smietana. And what I was hearing from them was exactly what I wanted them to learn and discover: ‘What if we made this steeper?’ ‘What if we used tape?’ ‘What if we added weight?’ The whole experience felt like a natural extension of our learning – and I knew they would create something awesome.