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Academics, Middle School

Sixth Grade Students Engineer and Build Rube Goldberg Machines

Sixth grade science students engaged in the design process for much of December by imagining and creating Rube Goldberg machines. A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine intentionally designed to perform a task in a complicated manner, often through a series of devices linked together to produce a domino effect.

“This project introduces the difficulties of the engineering and design process,” says Middle School science teacher Erica Bergamini. “Just because you can imagine something doesn’t mean it will work on the first try. From there, the students have to develop the grit and perseverance of problem solving.”

In designing their machines, students were required to include at least one type of each of the three basic simple machines: an inclined plane; a lever; and a wheel, pulley, or something that turns on an axle. The project also included a written component containing a labelled diagram of the machine with a detailed description of how it works.

Students primarily used cardboard, hot glue guns, and masking tape to build their Rube Goldberg machines. “For students, the biggest challenge of this project is realizing that when faced with limited resources, sometimes they can’t solve the problem, and that is OK,” says Erica.

Morris R. ran into this issue. His original idea proved to be too complicated to complete with the materials available. “I had to take out two or three steps and simplify my entire machine,” says Morris. “It was hard to go back to the design and figure out what I could eliminate.”