Activity: Design Your Own Rube Goldberg Machine



Rube Goldberg is famous for his very complex machines that accomplish everyday tasks. Students will design and build a Rube Goldberg machine which will accomplish a simple task in no less than ten steps.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY [1 = Least Difficult : 5 = Most Difficult]



120 - 360 minutes (2-8 class periods)




2.2 Demonstrate methods of representing solutions to a design problem, e.g., sketches, orthographic projections, multiview drawings.
2 .3 Describe and explain the purpose of a given prototype.
2 .4 Identify appropriate materials, tools, and machines needed to construct a prototype of a given engineering design.
2 .5 Explain how such design features as size, shape, weight, function and cost limitations (i.e., ergonomics) would affect the construction of a given prototype.
2 .6 Identify the five elements of a universal systems model: goal, inputs, processes, outputs, and feedback.
1 .1 Given a design task, identify appropriate materials (e.g., wood, paper, plastic, aggregates, ceramics, metals, solvents, adhesives) based on specific properties and characteristics (i.e., weight, strength, hardness and flexibility).
1 .2 Identify and explain appropriate measuring tools, hand tools, and power tools used to hold, lift, carry, fasten, and separate, and explain their safe and proper use.
1 .3 Identify and explain the safe and proper use of measuring tools, hand tools, and machines (e.g., band saw, drill press, sanders, hammer, screwdriver, pliers, tape measure, screws, nails, and other mechanical fasteners) needed to construct a prototype of an engineering design.

Practical representation of simple machines (prototype)
Engineering design process
Safe usage of tools
Five elements of a technology system - goal, inputs, processes, outputs and

Schematic: showing the basic form or layout of something
Students should already have had an introduction to simple machines: lever, pulley, wheel and axle, wedge, inclined plane, etc.
Students should already be trained to use any tools they will need. Screwdrivers, saws, drills hammers and other necessary tools.
For 55 years Goldberg's award-winning cartoons satirized machines and gadgets which he saw as excessive. His cartoons combined simple machines and common household items to create complex, wacky, and diabolically logical machines that accomplished mundane and trivial tasks. His inventions became so widely known that Webster's Dictionary added "rube goldberg" to its listing, defining it as "accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply."
His "inventions," drawn for our pleasure, can actually work. By inventing excessively complex ways to accomplish simple tasks, he entertained us and poked fun at the gadgets designed to make our lives easier. In his words, the machines were a "symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results." He believed that most people preferred doing things the hard way instead of using simpler, more direct paths to accomplish goals.
The resulting inventions are collections of bits and pieces, parts of now useless machines, scraped together to achieve an innovative, imaginative, yet somehow logical contraption to conquer the job at hand.

-Taken from

The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay - Pictures and explanations of simple machines.

Examples of simple and complex machines (pullys, ramps, bicycle etc.)
Illustrations of Rube Goldberg machines
Wood, metals, plastics and composites.
Foam board or extruded foam insulation make good bases as they are light, sturdy, and easy to attach things to.
Coat hangers, cardboard, screws, wire, string, tape and lots of other miscellaneous construction materials.
Screwdrivers, saws, drills hammers and other necessary tools.
Poster paper, markers, crayons, pencils, rulers, etc
Collection of discarded “raw materials” for student prototypes
Students will also need to provide materials from home, which may be returned at the end of the project.

Choose time frame for completion of machine
Gather materials and/or have students gather materials in advance.
As a class:
1. Review simple machines
2. Brainstorm on the incorporation of simple machines into more complex machines
3. Brainstorm simple tasks that would lend themselves to the project
4. Look at illustrations of Rube Goldberg machines
5.Discuss any saftey concerns that the students need to be aware of reguarding the supplies availible to them.
6.Explain requirements and expectations for the rubric.
7. Divide students into groups.
8. Students will identify a basic task and design a machine to accomplish that task in no less then 10 steps.
9. Students will produce a schematic design labeling each part and its function and each step needed to accomplish the task.
10. Students will build a working prototype of their design using tools and machinery.
11. Students will make a presentation of their prototype which will include a demonstration and explanation of the process.
How can we build a device that will incorporate the recognized standard simple machines and will accomplish a basic task in no less then 10 steps?
How can we represent the process used to complete this design from goal to feedback?
Does the prototype accomplish the basic task in no less then 10 steps?
How does the prototype work to accomplish this task in no less then 10 steps?
Does or could this prototype have a practical application?
What changes would we make to the prototype based on our experiences - successes and failures - during the design process?
How do we use tools to shape, cut, and/or fabricate elements of the design?
Rube Goldberg is the ® and © of Rube Goldberg, Inc.
Students can enter designs in the annual Rube Goldberg Machine
Contest. For current information, contact Rube Goldberg Inc at or (212) 371 3760.


See Associated Download.


See Associated Download.