Avon fifth graders compete in Rube Goldberg contest


For those students in their final days of the school year, it can be a struggle to concentrate with summer vacation on the way. Students at one Avon school are using a decades-old Indiana tradition to keep their focus before summer.

It's the culmination of weeks of teamwork for students at Avon Intermediate School West, who are wrapping up their school year with an event that originated 30 years ago at Purdue University. The Rube Goldberg competition is all about designing a machine that uses the most complex process to complete a simple task.

"Well, it worked better than I thought it was going to, but it really wasn't that great," said fifth-grade student Conner Madding.

The students all take different experiences away from the contest.

"It's hard," said Gavin Padgett.

"Working with your classmates and just having fun," said Zach Rinehart.

"Yes, it has been fun," said Katie Holland. "I just like how everybody gets together for one big project for something so simple."

"There's a couple things that impress me the most. One is the students' ability to work together to solve problems and not to get aggravated with each other or frustrated. It's all about working together," said principal Dustin Lemay. "Then, really, the second thing is, they're learning at a high level, hands-on activities, student engagement. It's been awesome to watch."

Twelve classes are participating in the competition this year. They've been spending the last three weeks, about an hour a day, working on putting the contraptions together.

"Last year, we just did three classes. We tried it out and everybody loved it so much, they decided to make it the whole fifth grade. We've got nearly 300 students this year," said teacher Patrick Frepan.

Around 30 adults worked with the students as mentors. Among them, an electrical engineering teacher from Purdue University.

"They have fun doing basic engineering and they don't even know it. They make these critical ideas and they watch them work and they're full of excitement and energy and then I get excited, too," said Purdue engineering instructor Ray DeCarlo.

In the end, all of the machines encountered their share of problems, but there was no mistaking the creativity and enthusiasm students devote to this annual event.