Design Challenge: Make a Rube Goldberg Machine

What You Need:

  • Any materials found around the house, such as:
    • Cardboard
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Cotton balls
    • Dominoes
    • Legos
    • Paper cups
    • Toy cars
    • Duct tape
    • Marbles
    • String
    • Paper towel tubes
    • Pencil and paper for notetaking and brainstorming
    • Scissors
    • Tape and/or glue


What You Do:

  1. Explain the purpose of the Rube Goldberg Machine to your child. Explain that rather than simplifying a complicated task, these machines perform a simple task in a complicated way. Consider showing your child a video of Rube Goldberg Machines online. (Here is a possible example video of a Rube Goldberg machine.) Ask your child what makes these machines different from others they have seen.
  2. Ask your child to brainstorm tasks for their machine to complete. Some of these could be:
    • Turning on or off a light switch
    • Turning off an alarm clock
    • Squeezing toothpaste on a toothbrush
    • Turning on a faucet
    • Opening a phone app
    • Popping a balloon
  3. Have your child choose which task they would like to use for their machine.
  4. Ask your child to collect various materials that they think might be useful in creating a machine to complete their chosen task. Remind your child that they will not have to use all of the items in their machine. 
  5. After collecting materials, have your child brainstorm different ways they can use their materials to complete their task. Ask them to write or draw several ideas on a piece of paper, and ensure that they remember the purpose of their machine: completing a simple task in a complicated and creative way. 
    • Consider having your child design their machine backwards, working from the completion of the task itself and adding on more elements to the beginning of the machine. 
  6. After your child has finished brainstorming, ask them to choose the design they think will work best. Once again, emphasize the purpose of their Rube Goldberg Machine: to complete a simple task using a complicated machine.
    • This is an important step of the design thinking process because it teaches your child to prioritize the functionality of their design over personal preferences, and it prevents them from getting too emotionally attached to one design.
  7. Once your child has decided on a design, they can start building. Be sure to supervise and help out wherever is needed.
  8. After your child has finished building their machine, it’s time to test it! 
    • If your child’s machine works, congratulate them on creating a functioning Rube Goldberg machine. Ask your child which parts they could change to make a more complex machine, or ask them to create another one of their designs and compare the two machines.
    • If your child’s machine does not work, ask them what they think went wrong. Encourage them to return to the brainstorming phase and redesign their machine until it successfully completes their task.

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