Your own imagination and creativity are all you need to build a super Rube Goldberg machine. But if you're having trouble getting started, here are a few tips to help you. Also, don't forget to visit the page (in the blue menu) called Links on Creativity, Inventions and Science.
1. Decide on a goal for your machine (unless your teacher has assigned one already). The goal is the last step of your machine. It may be something useful, like how to turn off the alarm clock, or something wacky, such as how to swat a fly.
2. Gather a few things from around the house, in your toy box, junk drawer, or garage. Balls, marbles, dominoes, string, toy cars, mousetraps (never use a rat trap - it could break the bones in your hand), magnets, cardboard or tubes, etc. Don't worry, you can collect more later. Avoid fire or dangerous chemicals.
3. Now play with the things! What can the car bump into or knock down? Can the string pull something up? What can push the ball down the cardboard ramp? Try it out!
4. Get a piece of paper and start writing down any idea that pops into your head. This is called brainstorming. No matter how crazy the idea seems, just write it down for later. Even if you don't use it, it may help you think of more things. Trouble brainstorming? Then try this. Write down 50 uses for a computer disk (other than what it is intended - to store computer files). It can be anything, as silly as you want! That will jumpstart your brain! Or go through the alphabet, naming one machine part for each letter: Airplane, Balloon, Comb...
5. Once you get a few good ideas for your machine, make a list, in order, of the steps, or draw a simple picture of the steps.
6. Plan on making quite a few changes to your machine as you build it. It may look different from your original drawing. Try not to get frustrated, this is part of learning what works best.
7. If you get stuck at a certain step of your machine, why not try to work your way backwards? Start at the last step, and connect the part to it that triggers it. Or take a break away from the machine. Sometimes you'll come back with a fresh solution to the problem.
8. Maybe you've overlooked the most important element of an outstanding Rube Golberg machine: WACKINESS! Rube saw the humor in every situation. His ludicrious cartoons were a satire on the American public for their complicated methods for solving a problem. Be sure to follow your teachers guidelines if you are required to have a certain number of pulleys, ramps, levers, etc. but then, GO CRAZY! A true Rube Golberg machine would be boring without some commom household items (old toys, toilet plunger, egg beater, mousetrap, typewriter...)
9. Another quick brainstorming solution is to develop at least a few parts of the machine around a theme:
Star Wars: use your collection of a tiny spaceship to drop down a string, bump a toy alien, push some "moon" rocks...
Farming: imagine a small tractor pushing a cow, triggering a mini bale of hay to drop into a small barn...
Sports: golf balls, mini racetracks, tiny tennis racket, and even use a baseball bat or golf club as a sturdy pole.
Cat Lovers: toy cat, mousetrap, catnip, ball of string...
10. Still having trouble? Look up the inspiration for this event and all things related to Rube Goldberg: his original "invention cartoons". While you may not open your garage door by pouring water on a daisy seed and waiting for the flower to start a chain reaction, you'll laugh at his orginality and will surely get some ideas. An Rube Goldberg cartoon can be found at our site at
Rube Goldberg's Cartoons or check the Official Rube Goldberg Site (if that site doesn't work, use this one.
Here are a few ideas for teachers, including homeschoolers, just starting out with Rube Goldberg projects.
1. Develop and communicate clear requirements. This includes the minimum number of steps for the machine (six is a resonable minimum), restrictions such as the use of battery power, electricity, or fire, the due dates, grading, and the final goal (the last step) of the machine. Sometimes a very creative student will have trouble deciding on the last step. It may be interesting to assign the goal, to demonstrate the many different solutions to the problem that the students will come up with. Some specific guidelines for the Rube Goldberg Invention Convention can be found at the link in the blue menu called Information for Participants.
2. Will students be working individually or in small groups of three or four? How will the group share ideas? Teamwork is sometimes a challenge even for adults. Maybe the group can brainstorm together (both on paper and by "playing" with objects: balls, ramps, magnets, dominoes, etc). This unorganized sharing of ideas is usually the most productive. At home, they can brainstorm 5 or 10 more ideas to later share with their group. When the project is being built, the steps they've agreed to use can be divided up amoung individuals, or just between a couple people for each step.
3. Remind students that many ideas that they come up with may not be used and they will probably change their minds quite a bit in the beginning. Students will need to use their problem solving skills, or sometimes abandon an idea and try another if too much time is being used. This is natural and much learning will take place during these experiments. Your encouragement and gentle guidance will be very helpful to them at this stage. Emphasize creativity and a positive "I can" attitude!
4. Be realistic with the time constraints. Will students have time to work in class? How will they get together with their groups after class? Machines may take weeks to develop, from the learning and planning stages, to the finished result. Rube Goldberg projects should be introduced gradually. Creativity cannot be forced in a short time. Encourage students to start early, and include several due dates to avoid procrastination. These due dates should tie into your lesson plans. Starting is usually the hardest part for students.
5. For older students, decide what scientific principles they should incorporate into their machines. Rube Goldberg machines can be related to your previous lesssons on simple machines, cause and effect, Newton's Laws, acceleration, momemtum, gravity, electromagnetism and more. Younger students may only need to be introduced to the six simple machines, with plenty of examples.
6. Consider a schedule such as this:
Week 1 and 2: Distribute information about Rube Goldberg, examples of his wacky cartoons, and samples of "real" Rube Goldberg machines. Much of that information is available at this site and others on the Web. Let students search the Web and find more information. Consider showing a movie in class, such as the Purdue Highlights or How Things Go. (See the link in blue menu called Links on Creativity, Inventions, and Science for more info about these films). At the computer lab, allow them to use the software The Incredible Toon Machine. This may still be available from Sierra.
- Discuss creativity, what is brinstorming, and review necessary scientific principles.
- Provide frequent brainstorming sessions and encouragement between these activities.
- Students may develop a short report on Rube Goldberg or his invention cartoons.
Weeks 3 and 4: Students should submit their lists of all brainstorm ideas, even those ideas that they don't plan on using. Students should decide which steps or ideas to try and begin gathering materials. The steps should be listed in logical sequence. Building the machine can now start. Remind students that they are permitted to discard old ideas or use new ones to some extent.
Weeks 5 and 6: The machines may be built indefinately if students don't complete each step before proceeding to the next. Now is the time to help them to stay on track. Students should turn in a logical sequence of steps they have agreed upon, and should stick to these steps. Continue building the machines. Offer suggestions if students hit a roadblock here.
Weeks 7 and 8: Students should complete their projects and be certain that each step works as planned.
Students should present their machines to the class and a list of the final steps on their assigned due date. These ideas are only a rough guideline. Base the time requirement on the lesson plans, age and ability of students, number of steps in the machine, etc. Be flexible if necessary.
Week 9: Students may complete and turn in a report of how their machine demonstrated principles of science, or what simple machines they incorporated. Students may enjoy posting a picture and machine steps to your Web page.
7. Communicate the grading of the projects (and reports, if any) before hand. Depending on the age of the students, assign points for effort, creativity, teamwork, use of simple machines and scientific principles, number of steps, and the ability of the machine to work. Reward their hard work, persistance and achievements. While a Rube Goldberg machine should work from start to finish without any human intervention, allow your students to "assist" the machine when neccessary, and emphasize the positive aspects of the machine. Remember all the hard work that they put into their machine. Building a Rube Goldberg machine is as much about developing a positive attitude and confidance, as it is about science.
8. Take plenty of pictures of the kids and their machines. Invite the parents to see the display and demonstrations if an evening can be scheduled. Students are proud of the work they have done. Why not submit the pictures and descriptions to our Web site for us to post?
9. Consider creating your own small Rube Goldberg machine and see what is involved in the process.
10. Check what other teachers are doing on the Web.
Have a good time!