Students Create Rube Goldberg Contraptions

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SWBAT: Build an actual Rube Goldberg contraption that demonstrates their understanding of energy transformations.

Big Idea

Now that students have tested roller coasters and investigated with several simulations about energy, it is time for them to actually build a Rube Goldberg contraption!


At this point students have had substantial exposure to energy transformations and forms of energy. They have used several simulations to help them deepen their understanding of these topics, while developing some engineering skills, too. It is now time for them to apply their knowledge to build a Rube Goldberg contraption with at least 3 or 4 (depending on the class) parts that makes a ball move.  

Prior to implementing this lesson, you must gather materials that are safe and appropriate for student use. I generally have items, such as textbooks, balls, meter sticks, pipe insulation that is cut in half, and whatever else is around the room. 

This lesson once again builds understanding of the following standards:

MS-PS3-5, MS-ETS1-1 through 1-4

SEPs 1 and 6

Students are assessed on their ability to identify the energy transformations that are taking place and reflections that discuss challenges faced and how they overcame them.

Designing Rube Goldberg Contraptions

8 minutes

After students identify the problem or challenge--in this case constructing a successful Rube Goldberg contraption with at least 3-4 parts--it is time for students to design possible solutions, share their ideas with their groups, and then pick the best design to follow.

I give individual students about 5 minutes to brainstorm ideas and then ask them to share their ideas, one at a time, with their entire group.

This is a video of students planning their design.

Students then decide which design, or parts of a specific design, to incorporate into their final design.  Students are then asked to design a final blue print of their design, which must be approved by me before they begin constructing.  The final design must have a detailed explanation of the types of energy transformations that are taking place between each part.

Once the contraption is approved, students are able to gather their materials and begin constructing. 

Students Construct, Test, and Redesign Their Contraptions

35 minutes

Now that students have designed their contraption and determined which materials they would like to use, they gather their materials and begin constructing their designs. As they are building, they may soon realize that their design isn't going to work.

They are encouraged to problem solve and create a contraption that functions properly. As they alter their designs, they should document the changes that they made and explain the intentions of each change. As they're constructing, I am circulating around the room asking students to reflect on their experiences and how this challenge is related to energy. In particular, I want them to notice that if something doesn't have enough energy to function then it needs more stored energy to make it work.  

Here are a few videos of students' Rube Goldberg contraptions:

Students testing ideas 1

Students Testing Ideas 2

Students Testing Ideas 3

Students model their designs and we have a class discussion about the types of energy transformations that are taking place in each contraption, helping students solidify their conceptual understanding of energy transformations.