Hands-on Activity: Design Your Own Rube Goldberg Machine
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
A familiarity with the six types of simple machines: inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, wheel and axle, and pulley.
Ability to safely use tools, such as screwdrivers, saws, drills and hammers.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
(Show students a few Rube Goldberg cartoons that feature his crazy inventions.) For 55 years, Rube Goldberg's award winning cartoons satirized machines and gadgets that he saw as excessive. His cartoons combined simple machines and common household items to create complex, wacky and diabolically logical machines that accomplished mundane and trivial tasks.
His inventions became so widely known that Webster's Dictionary added "Rube Goldberg" to its listing, defining it as "a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation." His "inventions," drawn for our pleasure, can actually work. By inventing excessively complex ways to accomplish simple tasks, he entertained us and poked fun at the gadgets designed to make our lives easier. In his words, the machines were a "symbol of humans' capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results."
He believed that most people preferred doing things the hard way instead of using simpler, more direct paths to accomplish goals. The resulting inventions are collections of bits and pieces, parts of now useless machines, scraped together to achieve an innovative, imaginative, yet somehow logical contraption to conquer the job at hand.
The following are examples of tasks that can be illustrated using the Rube Goldberg technique: putting toothpaste on a toothbrush; adhering a stamp to a letter; selecting, cleaning, and peeling an apple; turning on a radio; toasting a slice of bread. Can you think of your own?
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
As necessary, review with students the basics of simple machines: inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, wheel and axle and pulley.
As necessary, provide students with the training to use any tools they need, such as screwdrivers, saws, hot glue guns, drills and hammers.
With the Students
As a class:
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Additional Multimedia Support (Return to Contents)
Learn more about Rube Goldberg and see examples of his cartoon illustrations at the official Rube Goldberg website: http://www.rubegoldberg.com/.
Refer to the information, lessons and activities of the seventh-grade Simple Machines unit in the TeachEngineering collection.
Learn more about the steps of the engineering design process at: http://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php
References (Return to Contents)
Rube Goldberg is the ® and © of Rube Goldberg, Inc. Students can enter designs in the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. For current information, contact Rube Goldberg Inc. at www.rubegoldberg.com or 212-371-3760.
Copyright© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University
Last Modified: September 18, 2014