Do you want to be an inventor? A great way to spark a love for engineering is by creating your own version of the beloved Rube Goldberg Machines that were a huge hit in pop culture during the 1980’s and still very much loved today. What’s so great about this kind of machine? While they look complicated, Rube Goldberg Machines solve a very simple problem in a very creative way. This kind of invention relies on a series of simple machines (i.e. levers, pulleys, ramps, etc.) that are strung together in a chain reaction – making them a great introduction to engineering for kids of all ages!
Step 1: Learn
Reuben Lucius Goldberg was a cartoonist from the 1920s to the 1950s who produced more than 50,000 drawings and thousands of comic strips. Today he is most remembered for his “invention drawings”, drawings of complicated machine designs using things like pulleys, levers, birds, and rockets to fix simple problems like stapling papers or ringing a bell. These machines are known as Rube Goldberg Machines. You can find lots of examples of Rube Goldberg machines on the internet or they also sometimes appear in films like Back to the Future, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The Goonies, and the Wallace & Gromit movies, so if your team is struggling for ideas maybe you can watch them to get inspired!
Step 2: Pick a Problem
What problem or ‘end task’ do you have that a Rube Goldberg Machine can help solve? Keep it simple and feel free to get creative. Some examples of problems that can be solved include turning on lights (like in the video above), ringing a bell, popping a balloon, unraveling a sign, or opening a door. Once you know what your problem is you can work backwards to create your own Rube Goldberg Machine. It’s important to brainstorm the steps you would like to include to solve your problem. A good rule of thumb is to write down or draw any ideas that come to mind, at this stage all ideas are welcome!
Step 3: Gather Supplies
Once you have an idea about what kinds of simple machines you would like to build, you will need to start gathering your materials. This is where you can get really creative and think outside of the box! Start with things that you have around the house, or that you can collect easily like recycling…there is no need to spend money to make a great machine. Below are just some examples to get you started:
Step 4: Build Your Machine
Lay out all your materials and grab your drawn out plans – it’s time to start engineering your very own Rube Goldberg Machine! The basic concept that we’re exploring is that of a chain reaction, so one simple machine will start another, and so on. Sometimes it helps to build your machine backwards, starting with the reaction that will ‘solve the problem’. During this process its okay to change your ideas and stay flexible – something that worked on paper might not work in real life.
Step 5: Test, Improve, and Test Again!
Test your machine as you go along and make improvements along the way. This can be difficult because you put lots of work into the build, and your machine may fail a lot! But, this is a very important part of the design process because it is where you can find areas to improve.
Try to think like Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the America and an inventor who said, “I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong” or like Amelia Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, who said “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”
Put Your Machine to the Test!
Ready to for a little fun? Join in on the Girl Scouts Take On…Rube Goldberg Machines competition! This is a great chance for girls to team up (only one girl on the team needs to be registered Girl Scout) and get creative building their very own Rube Goldberg Machine. There are certain rules and guidelines to follow in order to enter the competition, learn more on our website!