Creative Engineering with Rube Goldberg Machines

Students work on Rube Goldberg machine.Grade eight students are exploring physics and engineering by creating Rube Goldberg machines. The lesson requires students to design a complex contraption that performs a simple task in an elaborate way. To be successful, students must work as a team and employ scientific concepts such as kinetic energy, gravity and momentum.

Grade 8 students constructing a Rube Goldberg machine.Student engagement for a project like this is high according to Physical Science teacher Joseph Iannotti. That engagement is evident when students talk about what the sections they are responsible for.

“It’s fun and helps us learn at the same time,” said Miles Silverstein. “We learned how to turn energy into different forms and how to move energy.”

“We’ve learned about pulleys, levers and all types of motors,” said Fionna Conlin. “This was good to do because it shows you that you can learn different things by using different materials.”

Students work on Rube Goldberg machine.The exercise requires social skills in addition to engineering and creativity.

“I’ve learned that you have to be able to work together with people, and to let other people state their ideas and not take total control,” Conlin affirmed.

Iannotti says fostering teamwork is a crucial objective in the Rube Goldberg lesson. While the goal is to move an item from point A to point, each group has to work together to set their neighbor’s section of the machine in motion. That involves discussion and negotiation.

Teacher works with student on assembling a Rube Goldberg machine.“They have to communicate their ideas to one another to make it work,” Iannotti said.

Students even squeeze in extra time to work on their machines during lunch and study halls. It’s an enthusiasm that Iannotti enjoys watching.

“My favorite part of this is when they come and just go to work. I don’t need to say anything to get them started.”

New opportunities for the students to be inspired are on the horizon. When they advance to high school, students can take physics and tech classes, and join the Science Olympiad.