Rube Goldberg Machines


Once the basics of graphing and the importance of developing a fair test/experiment have been discussed, students are guided in developing a test to discover the rolling properties of various balls/materials.  They will make predictions, record observations and information, graph their work & share their results.  Using this information and the design process, groups of students then design and build a Rube Goldberg machine.

Rationale (Why we are doing this?)

Providing a tangible application of skills learned in a variety of curricular areas can help students make connections between subject areas, develop critical thinking skills and engage students who might struggle to connect with strictly theoretical applications.


Rube Goldberg & Testing Kit from District Library Learning Centre

Additional Possible Resources:

  • Popsicle sticks
  • Keva Blocks
  • K’nex
  • Lego
  • Cardboard
  • Pipecleaners
  • Glue gun
  • Masking tape
  • Duct tape
  • Whatever materials you would like your students to be working with.

Context and Background Knowledge

A review of safely working with sharp objects and respecting the learning space of other students.  Students should have been introduced to the idea of graphing information to better compare & communicate it.

Curricular Connections (Competencies and Content)

Competencies & Content Subject/Level
Use reasoning to explore and make connections Math 4
Estimate reasonably  
Use technology to explore mathematics  
Model mathematics in contextualized experiences  

Identify questions about familiar objects and events that can be investigated


Science 4
Observe objects and events in familiar contexts  
Make predictions based on prior knowledge  
Suggest ways to plan and conduct an inquiry to find answers to their questions  

Safely use appropriate tools to make observations and measurements, using formal

measurements and digital technology as appropriate

Collect simple data  
Sort and classify data and information using drawings or provided tables  
Use tables, simple bar graphs, or other formats to represent data and show simple patterns and trends  
Compare results with predictions, suggesting possible reasons for findings  
Reflect on whether an investigation was a fair test  
Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of evidence  
Co-operatively design projects  
Transfer and apply learning to new situations  
Generate and introduce new or refined ideas when problem solving  

Represent and communicate ideas and findings in a variety of ways, such as diagrams

and simple reports, using digital technologies as appropriate

Identify key features or user requirements ADST 4/5
Identify the main objective for the design and any constraints  
Generate potential ideas and add to others’ ideas  
Screen ideas against the objective and constraints  
Outline a general plan, identifying tools and materials  
Record iterations of prototyping  
Make changes and test again, repeating until satisfied with the product  
Identify new design issues  

Use materials, tools, and technologies in a safe manner, and with an awareness of the

safety of others, in both physical and digital environments

Demonstrate a willingness to learn new technologies as needed  
Use familiar tools and technologies to extend their capabilities when completing a task  

Explore + Understand + Create (Key elements/Lesson Design/Format)

This activity was designed to be run over two full days.  Feel free to modify as you see fit, but these instructions will be assuming the activity runs as designed.

Day 1

  • Introduce Rube Goldberg Machines. Discuss challenges surrounding making such elaborate machines.
  • Introduce the Design Process.
    1. Empathize: Try to understand the “problem”, put yourself in the place of the person the machine is being created for
    2. Define: Discuss key parts of the “problem”, understand the constraints of the problem
    3. Ideate: Come up with as many ideas as possible, work together to combine ideas, be sure to listen to group member’s suggestions
    4. Prototype: Make a plan, build/make/create your machine
    5. Testing: Try to use your machine
    6. Sharing: Evaluate the results of your testing. Does it work perfectly?  If yes, tell others about the process & communicate what worked and what did not.  If it does not work, go back to the start of the design process.  Try to understand WHY it is not working, then address this issue
  • Begin designing materials testing activity
    1. Using test stand and long cardboard tracks, have students devise a way of keeping the track from tipping over. Two groups of students per stand.  The teacher stand has V shaped grooves cut into it to hold the tracks upright.  Demonstrate this to class & have them come up with multiple solutions to this problem (give enough time for students to try out their ideas & decide which works best)
    2. Once they have secured the track, have them put it in the highest position on the stand. Give them some time to roll various balls & washers down the track and observe how they behave.
    3. Bring students back to teacher stand. Discuss making the testing measurable, consistent, and repeatable.  Using two more track pieces, double the length of the testing track (place two pieces end-to-end, then use the third piece to brace the other two.  Tape these together)
    4. Time objects rolling down the short track. Compare this time to the objects rolling down the longer track.  Discuss why it might be easier to test using the longer, more controlled length of track.   Make predictions about which objects will be faster or slower & why.
    5. Have students measure the angle of the track. Record the angle if the track is in higher or lower positions.  Each group can test the materials at a different angle.  Have students keep track of their information on a chart.  Record object weight, angle of the track, time taken to roll down the track, observations about the object (hard/soft, sticky/smooth, hollow/solid, bouncy/not bouncy, etc.)
    6. Once the groups have completed their tests, have them graph their results. One graph for the weights of the balls, one graph for the time they took to roll down the track.
    7. Discuss with the class how the results compared to their predictions. Why do they think the balls that rolled quickly did so?  Which materials were fast? How did the angle of the track impact the results?
    8. Discuss how this new information can help them when designing their Rube Goldberg Machines. Understanding how objects behave and relationships between friction, mass, gravity.



Extension Activities

  • Create new tests/challenges:
    • How long can the class keep a ball moving
    • Can the class create a ramp to make a table tennis ball move a lacrosse ball?
    • Can the class create a ramp to make a ball roll uphill?

Special Notes


Lesson Feedback

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