Rube Goldberg Challenge

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Students will be able to build a complicated nonsensical machine to accomplish a simple task (Rube Goldberg Machine) in order to learn engineering skills.

Big Idea

Building a Rube Goldberg Machine (complicated process to accomplish a simple task) teaching engineering principles of design.

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

NGSS Performance Expectation (PE): (MS-ETS1-4) Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. The students are able to define for themselves what their goal should be. I can be as simple as knocking over a cup or rolling a ball through a goal. The data they are collecting is success or failure of each step of the Rube Goldberg Machine.

Science and Engineering Practice SP1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems, (4) Analyzing and Interpreting Data. A large potion of this assignment is taken up by trial-and-error type experimentation. Many planned activities do not work as expected and must be modified (theoretical data vs. experimental data).

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI): ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions - A solution need to be tested, and then modified on the basis of test results, in order to improve it.

Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World - The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. 

The students are tasked with building a Rube Goldberg Machine to accomplish a task of their choosing with a minimum of five actions. Each action should be independent and trigger the next event until their final goal is achieved. Student success is measured not by the completion of their final task, but by their overall design process.

An activity such as building a Rube Goldberg Machine can take as long or as short as necessary. I could easily stretch this activity to two weeks. As the kids get more into the building they want more time. 


20 minutes

As an introduction to this lesson we watch several Rube Goldberg Machines to give the students a sense of what they are to build. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who depicted complicated machines to solve simple problems. We discuss how the Mouse Trap Game is a Rube Goldberg Machine.

The students are placed into groups of three or four and have three days to design a machine with five events. I provide a lot of building material such as:

  1. Cups
  2. Plates
  3. Yarn
  4. Wire
  5. Marbles
  6. Racket balls
  7. Tennis balls
  8. Marbles
  9. Dominos
  10. Cardboard
  11. Paper towel tubes
  12. Toilet paper tubes
  13. Wrapping paper tubes
  14. Masking tape
  15. Clear tape
  16. K'nex pulleys and misc. parts

Each group is given an empty copy paper box to store their machines at the end of the period. I do this with each of my classes since there is no way that the designs can be left up all day long. I start collecting copy paper boxes a few months in advance and have the custodial staff save any boxes they have.

To assist with the complicated nature of this design I have installed hooks in the ceiling tiles that I purchased from Home Depot. These hooks give the students a point to attach a pulley.


They are also allowed to bring any item from home that they wish. As the building extends into the second and third day I start to see more items from home.

Student Activity

180 minutes

I was able to give my students three days to build a Rube Goldberg Machine that has five events.

Each day they have to disassemble their work and spend the first few minutes the next day putting it all back together. Their design is also recorded in their Interactive Notebooks (otherwise this isn't an authentic engineering design process).

Completed Designs

Student Work Sample

Before they are allowed to build they must do some research on simple machines and different types of levers. They must list several different types of simple machines and the three types of levers.



After they have done their research they must provide a design that incorporates 5 events/motions. Only when the design has been approved are they allowed to build. The design serves as their plan when they have to rebuild the machine at the beginning of each class.