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Children's STEAM Festival: Rube Goldberg Machines- an Engineering Challenge!

It is Day 3 of the Children's STEAM Festival and today we are taking a closer look at ENGINEERING! Read on to find out how you can engineer your own Rube Goldberg contraption and then be sure to visit Growing With Science where Roberta has some interesting Engineering Activities for Kids to share.

Engineering has to do with designing and building using engines, machines and structures. Engineering challenges are an engaging way to bring science concepts to life and encourage critical thinking and problem solving.

Challenging children to build Rube Goldberg machines is a particularly exciting engineering task. Rube Goldberg was an engineer and a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist in the early 1900's. He is well known, amongst other things, for his drawings of wacky, complicated machines that accomplish simple tasks. 

image: Rube Goldberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Machines like those depicted in Rube Goldberg's cartoons have been built for annual Rube Goldberg Machine contests, have gone viral on Youtube and make for some impressive tv ads. Here are a few of my favorite videos depicting Rube Goldberg inspired machines:

Building a Rube Goldberg machine is a great engineering challenge because you can leave it as open-ended or as structured as you like. At school I've tasked kids with building machines that include a certain number of simple machines and a minimum and maximum number of steps. I've challenged them to pour water into a cup, squirt toothpaste out of a tube and pop a balloon. As far as materials go, the sky is the limit. I've had students choose to use things from everyday recyclables to the science room's skeleton model and a skateboard! 

Rube Goldberg Competition by jclarson from New Mexico [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a great summertime activity. Draw a blueprint and then amend it through trial and error. What scientific principles will you put to use? Gravity? Equal and opposite forces? Make a hypothesis on how certain aspects will work. Test it out! This is the scientific method in practice!

Here are some ideas for your Rube Goldberg Machine challenge:

Simple Machines
  • include at least 3 inclined planes (ramps)
  • include a pulley and an inclined plane (ramp)
  • include a device that rolls on a wheel and axle
Everyday tasks
  • turn off a light switch
  • close a door
  • feed the dog
  • water the garden
Possible supplies: dominoes, popsicle sticks, k'nex or legos, blocks, marbles, small pulleys, string, toys, cardboard tubes, boxes, empty cans (watch out for sharp edges!), etc. etc.!

The official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest challenge for 2016 is to open an umbrella. Are you up for that challenge? There are a variety of age levels of the contest (11-18+), live and online. Find out more here.

What task will your Rube Goldberg Machine accomplish? What supplies did you use? Did you make a cool video? Please share! You can add a comment in the comment section or comment on the Children's STEAM Festival posts on Facebook or Google+.

Rube Goldberg Machine and other Engineering Resources:

Thanks for exploring engineering with me today! I'm looking forward to sharing STEAM ideas with you all week! To review our schedule and find links to all of the festival posts, click the Children's STEAM Festival button below.

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