Rube Goldberg Simulations Day 2

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SWBAT: Design a contraption that captures Jerry as he proceeds to steal a piece of cheese!

Big Idea

Engineering promotes the creative side in all of us. This lesson helps tie together energy transformations and engineering to deep understanding of the Law of Conservation of Energy.


In the previous lesson, students tried to manipulate various aspects of a Rube Goldberg contraption intended to capture a burglar. Standards MS-ETS-1 through 4, MS-PS-5 and SEPs 2 and 6 are covered in this lesson.

Students use the P.E.O.E. strategy and the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect to develop a deeper understanding of how energy makes work possible. In this lesson, students perform a similar task of constructing a Rube Goldberg contraption that captures Jerry from stealing cheese, only now they have many options. During the process of engineering possible solutions to the challenge, students make predictions, try different ideas. If something doesn't work, they are expected to reflect and refine their designs until they arrive at a successful solution.  

To add a little more to the rigor and deepen conceptual understanding, students identify the energy transformations that are occurring at each step. You can also use these links, if the first activity goes faster than anticipated.

We use Tom 'n Jerry from The Infinite Cat Project for the lesson. Note: if students finish early, there is another room in the house to design a solution to capture Jerry again. This helps to address the issue of varied abilities in your classes and help support those students who need more challenges.  

This is a link to another resource that you may find useful:

Dynamic Systems Games

Introducing Simulation to Students and Expectations

5 minutes

Begin by showing Tom and Jerry - Rube Goldberg Fail to hook students' attention and get them excited about this lesson. By having students identify the various energy transformations in the video, you will assist in activating their prior knowledge. After you have given students enough time to watch the video, have each group of 4-5 students discuss the energy transformations that they saw and then discuss as a class.

State something similar to this:

"Just like Tom (the cat), we will be designing a Rube Goldberg contraption that hopefully captures Jerry. We will use a simulation (project on board) that will allow us to try various devices within our contraption. You have the option of choosing the living room or kitchen. Your ultimate goal is to have each part of the contraption work together to capture Jerry in the trap. As you successfully complete one aspect of the simulation, you should record all of the energy transformations that make that possible. For example, if you choose the train then you would discuss the type of energy that makes the train work and the type of energy that results in it moving (doing work). You will complete this for each part of the simulation."  

Each time that students try a new part of the design, they predict and explain what they think will happen and then observe and explain what actually occurred, using P.E.O.E.. This helps drive inquiry and assists in helping students love down to be very methodical about their ideas. You can find more information about P.E.O.E. here.  

This video highlights the important aspects of the simulation:

Once students have a clear understanding of your expectations, they gather their computers/tablets, log on, and begin working.

Students Design, Test, and Alter Their Designs

45 minutes

It's important that you circulate around the room as students use the simulation to maintain appropriate rigor and provide support. As you circulate around the room, you may notice students who are not recording the proper information about what to record in their notes about the energy transformations.

As opposed to singling students out for this, gather everyone's attention and remind them that they must write down the energy transformations that are taking place within each part of the contraption.

Students record in their notebook the specific transformations taking place. Here is a sample of student work: