Drew Partin, left, and teacher Ed Johnson review one of the steps Partin is working on in a Rube Goldberg machine created by students at Madison Consolidated High School. The MCHS team’s mission was to design a machine that would hammer a nail using at least 20 steps. The team’s project finished fourth in competition Saturday. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
Drew Partin, left, and teacher Ed Johnson review one of the steps Partin is working on in a Rube Goldberg machine created by students at Madison Consolidated High School. The MCHS team’s mission was to design a machine that would hammer a nail using at least 20 steps. The team’s project finished fourth in competition Saturday. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
For most of us, hammering a nail is a simple task. That's not the case for a group of pre-engineering high school students.

Ten Madison Consolidated High School students competed in the 2013 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Jac-Cen-Del High School in Osgood on Saturday.

A Rube Goldberg machine is purposefully over-designed to perform a simple task, like hammering a nail. The board game, Mouse Trap, is probably the best-known example of a Rube Goldberg machine.

The team placed fourth out of five teams, with host Jac-Cen-Del taking first followed by Southeastern Career Center's Engineering Academy.

Team advisor Mike Turner said the competition was a good experience and the group is already looking forward to next year.

"Some of the other teams were much more refined, but we learned a lot," Turner said. "We took more risks in some respects than some of the others."

Each team demonstrated its machine three times - twice in front of judges and once in front of an audience. Points were taken off for exceeding the time limit, any human intervention and objects leaving the designated area.

Team members Clay Brawner, Tate Turner, Drew Bear, Nathan Holl, Drew Partin, Thomas Lee, Evan Kelley, Matt Podczerwinski, Alex Nunan and Richard Bach were given the task of creating a machine with at least 20 steps that could successfully hammer a nail within a six-foot by six-foot by six-foot enclosure in two minutes or less.

Instructor Ed Johnson began the undertaking with some of his "Project Lead the Way" students.

Johnson offered the project as a break for students from their year-long class projects.

Partin says he appreciates the time off when he can focus on something else.

"The class is based around problem solving," Partin said. "Rube Goldberg, all it is, is a bunch of tiny machines and steps that you put together to do a simple task. And that's what engineers do most of the time."

Johnson said his job is to keep the big picture in mind while his students focus on the individual steps of the machine. Many of the Rube Goldberg machine's actions were created by the students. Johnson said that gives students ownership in the machine and also allows them to think creatively about it.

"My role has kind of been to say 'that's not strong enough.' We need more coils or a bigger battery. There's two ways we can fix this, choose one.'"