Rube Goldberg Introduction

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SWBAT identify the purpose of a Rube Goldberg machine through video examples.

Big Idea

To complete the Rube Goldberg design challenge, students need to build a basic ideas of what the machines are and what they are capable of.


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson is an introduction to the idea of Rube Goldberg Machines.  It introduces the culminating project in the simple machines unit.  Students are learning about the complex ways a Rube Goldberg Machine completes a simple task.  

The lesson addresses MS-ETS1-4, as students are designing their own Rube Goldberg Machine in order to complete the task of popping a balloon using a minimum of three different simple machines. You won't need any materials, besides a SMARTBoard or projector, for this particular lesson, but the project requires extensive materials. See Rube Goldberg Design Phase for a brief materials list. 

To start this lesson, students reflect on what they know a compound machine is and how they work, by responding to the following prompt in their student notes sheet.  

Give an example of a compound machine. List the simple machines that work together.

Students answer individually and at the end of the 3 minutes, I will ask 1-2 students to share their responses with the whole class. 


15 minutes

I show the students a series of Rube Goldberg examples on video.  This is always exciting for them. The first two videos are examples of professional machines.  The last two are student created.  The students love the professional videos. It's important to remind them, theirs may not be as extensive as we are working in a classroom and not an industrial warehouse. 

This Too Shall Pass – Rube Goldberg Machine – Official Video OKGo

Honda Commercial with Rube Goldberg 

LBCS 2nd Grade Rube Goldberg

Science fun creating Rube Goldberg "Chain Reaction" Machines

As the students are watching, they are keeping a look out for various materials used in the machines and are trying to create their own idea of what a Rube Goldberg machine does. 


5 minutes

Now, I introduce the project to the students.  I ask one student to read at a time, stopping them along the way to explain various sections of the task.  The task is as follows:

The Rube Goldberg Machine Project

Task: to pop a balloon using at least 3 different simple machines

Available Materials: ramps, carts, push pins, balloons, tape, straws, balls of various sizes, cardboard tubing, marbles, anything else you want to bring in

Requirements and Points:

-complete the design sheet and its components (30)

-use at least 3 simple machines (25)

-complete the task of popping the balloon (15)

-complete the reflection and revisions sheet (30)

Total Points: 100


10 minutes

Now, with their small groups (I assign 3-4 students per group ahead of time), students work together to come up with an initial idea for how to pop the balloon. They know the available materials, and they've seen examples through the videos, therefore, an idea should come naturally.

If not, you might help the kids who need an extra push.  What is something from the materials list that could pop the balloon?  Where could we attach that so it will hit the balloon? It's easiest to start from the last step and work backwards. 

In their notes sheet, students complete the following: 

Design Round 1

After watching the videos and identifying the task and requirements for the project, discuss with your group any ideas you might have for popping the balloon.

Step 1: ________________________ .

Step 2: ________________________ .

Step 3: ________________________ .

Step 4: Balloon is popped.

In the student work sample, you can see the very limited idea in this phase of the project.  The plan is lacking details, but is off to a solid design start. 


5 minutes

As a wrap-up, students are asked to respond to the following prompts in their notes sheet: 

Identify the task.

What is the objective of the project?

What strategies do you think will help your group be successful?

I solicit 1-2 students to share their responses at the end of the class.