rube goldberg

Want to become an award-winning cartoonist and inventor? Follow your dreams, just like Rube Goldberg! From a young age, Rube Goldberg had a talent for art. But his father, a German immigrant, wanted Rube to have a secure job. So, Rube went to college and became an engineer.

But Rube didn’t want to spend his life mapping sewer pipes. He wanted to follow his passion, so Rube got a low-level job at a newspaper, and from there, he worked his way up, creating cartoons that made people laugh and tickled the imagination. He became known for his fantastic Rube Goldberg machines—complicated contraptions with many parts that performed a simple task in an elaborate and farfetched way. Eventually, his cartoons earned him a Pulitzer Prize and his own adjective in the dictionary. This moving biography is sure to encourage young artists and inventors to pursue their passions (amazon)


design challenge

Consider have students come up with the question for this challenge of a problem they would like to solve (example videos include opening a gate, breakfast machine, leprechaun trap, etc.)

Some examples: 

How can we cause something to move without touching it directly? Can we turn off the light switch from across the room? Can we deliver a note to the classroom next door?

Teacher Tip: The text is a great anchor, but it is very helpful to select one of the videos of a rube goldberg machine to support the imagine phase of design. 


​Simply Suggestions:

  • Recyclable materials

  • Consumable materials

  • Spheres of different size and weight


Your Choice: 

  • Time

  • Height

  • Transfer of energy 

  • Types of energy

  • Simple machines


Who will be using the machine? Will it be a child? The elderly? An adult? A pet? Considerations will need to be made in aesthetics and design to cater to these audiences. Discussion may be helpful around how machines solve problems and do work, and cause and effect. 

PE aligned

Including, but not limited to: 

  • Physical Science - Force and Motion


Students will begin to draw on background knowledge and experience to think about ways to approach the challenge and solve the problem. Allow class discussion of considerations and ideas. 

Depending on the video you select to anchor 


Depending on the way you set up constraints and the design of the challenge, it will alter the way to approach 

3D table design - move an object from the start to the end and built it on top of the table

Peg Board - using gravity have students plan and 3D print various parts to move an object from top to bottom including considerations of friction, change in direction, change in sound, etc. (objects can be zip tied onto the board as well)

Classroom challenge - turning off the light, you can have students draw a plan start to finish in their notebook, or give them parts of the larger system and then collaborate to connect their designs together

2D - students can draw their design including various simple machines and using developing model strategies and codes to represent what is happening


Students will use various materials to create their design, depending on the challenge you have selected. 


Testing should be repetitive as they go throughout the process, they need to be able to test and improve. When doing the class test, you should allow them a few different tries so there isn't pressure on the first attempt. 

Teacher Tip: This is a great opportunity to discuss failing forward and perseverence. 


This is an iterative process. If teams are "done" you can add another challenge to their design. See if they can include another transformation of energy, can they make an energy diagram, are they able to use all the simple machines, can they connect to another team's design, etc. 

additional texts