Engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg is famous for his crazy machines that accomplish everyday tasks in overly complicated ways. Students use their new understanding of types of simple machines to design and build their own Rube Goldberg machines that perform simple tasks in no less than 10 steps.
In this two-part activity, students design and build Rube Goldberg machines. This open-ended challenge employs the engineering design process and may have a pre-determined purpose, such as rolling a marble into a cup from a distance, or let students decide the purposes.
This is a Unit that I created for STEM Lessons. Students love to create Rube Goldberg Machines and they get a much better idea of how simple machines work and what they can do to accomplish work.
Students expand upon their understanding of simple machines with an introduction to compound machines. A compound machine a combination of two or more simple machines can affect work more than its individual components. Engineers who design compound machines aim to benefit society by lessening the amount of work that people exert for even common household tasks. This lesson encourages students to critically think about machine inventions and their role in our lives.
This resource is a rubric from a STEM Competition in which 4th-6th grade students competed. For this competition, students had to incorporate their understanding of simple machines to build a Rube Goldberg machine that completed a task.
Simple and compound machines are designed to make work easier. When we encounter a machine that does not fit this understanding, the so-called machine seems absurd. In this lesson, the cartoons of Rube Goldberg are introduced and engage the students in critical thinking about the way his inventions make a simple task even harder to complete. As the final lesson in the simple machines unit, the study of Rube Goldberg machines can help students evaluate the importance and usefulness of the many machines around them.
Through a five-lesson series with five activities, students are introduced to six simple machines inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, wheel-and-axle as well as compound machines, which are combinations of two or more simple machines. Once students understand about work (work = force x distance), they become familiar with the machines' mechanical advantages, and see how they make work easier. Through an introduction to compound machines, students begin to think critically about machine inventions and their pervasive roles in our lives. After learning about Rube Goldberg contraptions absurd inventions that complete simple tasks in complicated ways they evaluate the importance and usefulness of the many machines around them. Through the hands-on activities, students draw designs for contraptions that could move a circus elephant into a rail car, create a construction site ramp design by measuring different inclined planes and calculating the ideal vs. actual mechanical advantage of each, compare the theoretical and actual mechanical advantages of different pulley systems conceived to save a whale, build and test grape catapults made with popsicle sticks and rubber bands, and follow the steps of the engineering design process to design and build Rube Goldberg machines.
Refreshed with an understanding of the six simple machines; screw, wedge, pully, incline plane, wheel and axle, and lever, student groups receive materials and an allotted amount of time to act as mechanical engineers to design and create machines that can complete specified tasks. For the competition, they choose from pre-determined goal options such as: 1) dumping goldfish into a bowl, 2) popping a balloon, or 3) dropping mint candies into soda pop (creating a fizzy reaction). Students demonstrate their functioning contraptions to the class, earning points for using all six simple machines, successful transitions from one chain reaction to the next, and completion of the end goal.