Last Friday, I had the honor of being one of the judges for the the Rube Goldberg Machines Boss Level at NYC’s Quest 2to Learn School. With all of debate surrounding assessment, it was refreshing to witness a unique approach to middle school finals (or as Quest to Learn refers to them with a kid-friendly nod, “boss levels”). A “Rube Goldberg machine” is a device that’s designed to complete a simple task in a complex fashion. For this challenge, 6th-graders teamed up to create simple machines that served different purposes – one created art using paint, another lifted a tissue out of a tissue box. In order to complete their boss levels, these 6th graders had to design a solution to complete the tasks that they were assigned. Beyond the curricular content students had to apply, they were collaboratively problem solving, planning, testing, and iterating as a team in order to complete this challenge — a very accurate set of real life skills that we employ regularly at BrainPOP. We visited six classrooms and assessed the completed projects using rubrics, providing authentic feedback to the students from a variety of professions represented by the judging panel. Upon entering each classroom, the excitement of each team and the hours of work that went into each machine was palpable. I was particularly blown away by how students created themes around the challenges they were tasked with, like the storybook theme, pictured above, who’s machine was designed to open a book. All the students did an outstanding job of demonstrating their knowledge of simple machines, kinetic and potential energy, and teamwork! I don’t have any particularly positive memories of my middle school tests, but I can’t imagine any of these students forgetting this experience.