Brief Description:

Students use their knowledge of simple machines to work together to build a Rube Goldberg machine

Grades: 5-8

Time: 4 hour (multiple class periods. This is a good final poject)

Concepts: NXT robotics, simple machines, levers, wheel and axle, pulleys, gears, inclined plane, mindstorms programming, rube goldberg machine

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will use their knowledge of simple machines and/or NXT robotics to create a rube goldberg machine
  • Students will coordinate and communicate with other groups to ensure that each segment of the rube goldberg machine is interconnected
  • Students will use the engineering design process to design, create, test, and redesign their rube goldberg machine


  • Dominoes
  • Plastic balls
  • Cups
  • Cardboard
  • Legos
  • String
  • Wheels + axles
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Paper clips
  • Paper
  • Other materials that students request
  • NXT Robots (Note: This project can easily be done without them)


  1. A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device, or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion, generally including a chain reaction.
    1. Optional: show the students a video of a rube goldberg in action. Potential videos can be found  in Resources
  2. As a class, brainstorm some simple tasks that their rube goldberg machine can accomplish
    1. Turn on/off a light, click the computer mouse, push in a chair, etc.
  3. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 and assign them an order. This way they know which groups they must communicate with.
  4. Explain that a rube goldberg machine is like a chain reaction. Therefore, group 1’s segment must connect to group 2’s, group 2’s segment must connect to group 3’s, and so on. Groups MUST communicate with each other for this activity to be effective.
    1. Have the class draw out a plan that illustrates what their segment of the machine will do and how it will interact with the groups around them. What simple machines will you use? Do you need an NXT?
    2. This will likely take a full day of planning, as groups will take time to discuss how they are going to make it work.
    3. Once students have made a cohesive plan for their Rube Goldberg Machine, have them plan what materials they might need to build their segment.
    4. Sample Planning sheet for a Rube Goldberg Alarm Clock

Day 2-4

  1. Allow students to build. If they make any changes to their design, make sure they communicate with their surrounding groups so that they can make sure it will still work as a cohesive project.
  2. Make sure that you leave enough time to fit the the kids’ segments together.  It usually doesn’t work perfectly on the first try, so make sure you allow them time to modify their projects as needed so that they have a working project at the end.
  3. Present the final project

Extensions and Modifications:

  • When introducing Rube Goldberg Machines, you can show them examples made by the original cartoonist and have them label the simple machines they can find in the drawings.


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