In this two-part activity, students design and build Rube Goldberg machines. This open-ended challenge employs the engineering design process and may have a pre-determined purpose, such as rolling a marble into a cup from a distance, or let students decide the purposes.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Math
- Colorado: Science
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 3. Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6)  ...show
- 4. Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities. (Grade 7)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- List the general steps of the engineering design process.
- Think critically about the importance of the machines they encounter in life.
- Use their knowledge of simple and compound machines to design and build a small Rube Goldberg machine.
- hot glue
- construction paper
- small paper cups (such as Dixie cups)
- paper towel tubes
- jumbo paper clips
- rubber bands
- PVC pipe
|design:||To form a plan.|
|Rube Goldberg:||Cartoonist and engineer who poked fun at overly complicated machines; a machine that operates in a complicated way in which the procedure could have been much simpler.|
|specifications:||An exact and detailed statement of something to be built.|
Before the Activity
- For Part 1, gather paper and pencils for students to draw their designs and list any additional materials.
- Gather all materials, including any additional materials requested by groups.
With the Students
- In groups of three, have student engineering teams decide on simple tasks to create machines for, intended audiences, and any information they know that will help them solve the problem.
- With every group member contributing ideas, have students brainstorm ideas about how they will accomplish the simple task (such as getting a marble in a cup one meter away) in an overly complex way. Remind them that they must use at least three simple machines in their final designs.
- Next, have each team collectively produce machine drawings that include dimensions.
- Have teams include materials lists, including any special-request materials.
- Teams show their designs and materials lists to the teacher for approval.
- Have students make design alterations if not immediately approved. After approval, make the design more specific or the drawing more detailed as other groups finish up their designs.
- Have students spend a few minutes reviewing their drawings from Part 1 before starting to build.
- Have student teams gather their materials and begin to build their designs.
- Emphasize that each group member participates.
- Direct the students to follow the planned design as closely as possible.
- Once teams, have completed their designs, have them test their machines.
- Allow student teams to return to their seats and make adjustments, as necessary.
- Have each engineering team display their Rube Goldberg contrabptions to the class during the last 10 minutes of the period.
- What is a Rube Goldberg? (Answer: A machine that does a simple task in a complicated way.)
- Do such machines exist in the world? (Answer: Sure, otherwise Rube Goldberg would not have made it to the dictionary. They are any wacky looking device that seems too complex for its own good; moreover, it probably does a task you don't really need done in the first place.)
Activity Embedded Assessment
- How does Rube Goldberg fit in to all of this? (Answer: His cartoons help us think about the meaning of machines in our society.)
- For lower grades, designate a specific function for the machine. Students' machines should include at least three steps to completing the task.
Michael J. Bendewald, Janet Yowell
© 2007 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: October 2, 2015