Using Rube Goldberg Contraptions to Introduce Forms of Energy

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SWBAT: Identify and define various forms of energy represented in Rube Goldberg Contraptions.

Big Idea

There are many opportunities to use Rube Goldberg Contraptions when teaching science topics. This lesson focuses on utilizing Rube Goldberg contraptions to model various forms of energy.


Understanding forms of energy, such as thermal, electrical, chemical, nuclear, electromagnetic, help students explain the various ways that objects are able to do work (move) or how matter can change. Up until now, students have experienced how energy affects matter, but they haven't been asked to explain where the energy comes from or how it can transform/transfer from one form to another.  

Furthermore, the idea of energy conservation is directly correlated to matter conservation and, therefore, provides yet another opportunity to have students delve into the crosscutting concept (Matter and Energy) to deepen their conceptual understanding of certain phenomena.  

Rube Goldberg contraptions are filled with multiple energy transformations that engage students' curiosity and provide ample opportunities for student-centered inquiry. Starting with the OK-GO music video, students will observe the video and then inquire about the various forms of energy that are required to make a specific section of the contraption work.


5 minutes

I introduce the lesson by using OK Go video to hook students. Later, the video will be used as a formative assessment. Students will be asked to describe the forms of energy responsible for various parts of the video. 

Students are Introduced to Rube Goldberg Cartoons

10 minutes

After students' interest is piqued by the OK Go video, I want to introduce this idea of Rube Goldberg Cartoons and introduce the objective for the lesson.

I start by projecting the Rube Goldberg website on the board, which covers two things: it shows students how to navigate the site and demonstrates how to complete the next step of analyzing the forms of energy found in a cartoon.

I want students to use the cartoon and then research, using computers, the various types of energy and how they are being utilized in specific parts of a cartoon.  Note: I don't tell them the types of energy in the cartoon, they will make those discoveries as they analyze their own cartoon and look up what form of energy it is.  

Providing students with this graphic organizer helps focus their attention and organize their thoughts. Each group is given a Rube Goldberg cartoon and asked to identify the different changes in energy from start to finish.  

Students Pick and Analyze a Cartoon to Determine Forms of Energy

40 minutes

Students will then gather Chromebooks, log onto Rube Goldberg website and begin researching the forms of energy responsible for making the contraption work. 

Students will record their research in their notebooks, so that it is accessible even on days that we may not have the Chromebooks. If your school is 1:1, then feel free to have students compile this information in a Google Doc.

During our next class, students will deepen their understanding of forms of energy when they create a graphic that highlights the type of energy required to make each part of the contraption to work. The idea is to build understanding of the forms of energy and then students will create their own Rube Goldberg Devices.