Hands-on Activity: Design and Build a Rube Goldberg
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
In order to understand compound machines, it is helpful if students are familiar with the six individual simple machines and their abilities to make work easier, as discussed in lessons 1-3 of this unit. Compound machines are described in Lesson 4. This activity works is intended as a finale to the simple machines unit.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
During the first part of the activity, which is the design of the machines, tell the students that the following materials will be available for them. Anything else they think of requires teacher approval, for example, dominoes, an egg, a wooden dowel, wheels, etc.
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
We have been learning about simple and compound machines, calculating mechanical advantage and thinking about machines as a part of society. What is a simple machine? A simple machine makes work easier for people. We also know that engineers build complex machines upon a foundation of knowledge of simple machines. Now we will look at how all of these things that we have been studying come together, as we take on the role of the engineers who design machines. We are not going to design just any machine though; we are going to invent Rube Goldberg machines. Recall that a Rube Goldberg is a contraption that accomplishes a simple task in a fantastically complicated way.
Several steps compose the process of inventing, regardless of the type of machine you want to create. Who knows the first step in the engineering design process? The first step in designing a good solution is to define the need and the audience. You will need to work with your team to decide what you will be designing. What is the problem you are trying to solve, and who are you designing it for?
Next, an engineer thinks about information that might help to solve the problem. Needed information might include the constraints or limitations on the problem, such as materials or time or safety. For this project, we have some materials already available and we want to use at least three simple machines. We definitely have limited time to our class period, and we want to make sure our contraption is safe.
After all of these things have been decided, engineers brainstorm design ideas. With your team, you will come up with many different simple machine ideas that could be used to accomplish your final task. Then your engineering team will choose which ones to use and create a plan or drawing of the design.
Why is it important to design your machine first, either as a drawing or a clear idea in your mind? (Answer: To just start building could lead you to a machine you don't like or doesn't work, and we don't want to waste materials and time.)
Make sure your machine has many different steps and motions in order to complete the end function and look like a Rube Goldberg. Professional engineers draw their inventions before the thing is built, so we will do that, too. Remember to include a materials list.
Once you have a drawing and materials list, and the design has been approved by the teacher, begin building. Remember that good engineers try not to use more material than necessary and are interested in an attractive product that works as designed. After everyone is finished, we will rotate through and see all the machines in action.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Part 1: Design the Rube Goldberg Machine (25 minutes)
Part 2: Build the Rube Goldberg (50-60 minutes)
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
Remind students that the Rube Goldberg cartoon machines would probably never work in the real world, so they should not design something that closely resembles his cartoon, because they probably would not be able to build it.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Activity Discussion: Review and discuss the activity with the entire class. Use the answers to gauge students' mastery of what it means to design and build. Be sure to cover both the process and the purpose of its design.
Engineering Design Process: Have students acknowledge each step of the engineering design process as they are completing them. Write the steps on the board for student reference. The steps include: Define the problem, gather information, brainstorm ideas, select the most promising idea, explain your design, build and test your design, and redesign for improvement based on what you have learned from testing.
Rube Goldberg Worksheet: Use this worksheet to assign students to take a closer look at a Rube Goldberg cartoon and, drawing upon previously learned concepts, develop arguments that say the machine could in fact work.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Have students explain how they would find the mechanical advantage of their Rube Goldberg machine.
Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)
ContributorsMichael J. Bendewald, Janet Yowell
Copyright© 2007 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)
This digital library content was developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.