Search form

Designing Rube Goldberg Contraptions

Duration: 3-4 hours

Grade Level Options

The lesson plan is designed to be adaptable for various grade levels. The activities and concepts can be adjusted to fit students' developmental abilities.

Lower Grades (K-2)

  • Simplify the concept of simple machines and focus more on hands-on exploration.

  • Provide more guidance during the planning and building phases.

  • Choose simple and achievable tasks for the Rube Goldberg contraptions.

Intermediate Grades (3-5)

  • Emphasize a basic understanding of simple machines and their functions.

  • Encourage independent thinking during the planning phase.

  • Allow for a moderate level of complexity in the Rube Goldberg tasks.

Upper Grades (6-8)

  • Dive deeper into the principles of simple machines and their applications.

  • Encourage students to explore complex chain reactions.

  • Introduce additional challenges, such as incorporating a specific theme or constraint.


Students will learn about the principles of simple machines, cause and effect, and problem-solving by designing and building their own Rube Goldberg contraptions.


  1. Various household items (dominoes, toy cars, balls, ramps, cardboard, tubes, etc.)

  2. Craft supplies (tape, glue, string, popsicle sticks, scissors, etc.)

  3. Rube Goldberg machine examples (videos or pictures)

  4. Chart paper and markers

  5. Construction paper

  6. Writing/drawing materials

Introduction (15 minutes)

Show: Begin the lesson by introducing Rube Goldberg machines. Show examples through pictures or short videos to capture students' interest. 

Say: Explain that a Rube Goldberg machine is a complex contraption that performs a simple task in a complicated way. 

Discuss: Talk about how these machines use various simple machines and rely on chain reactions to complete a task.

Activity 1: Simple Machines Overview (20 minutes)

Do: Divide the students into small groups. Provide each group with a set of pictures or models representing different simple machines (lever, pulley, inclined plane, wheel and axle, wedge, and screw). 

Ask: Have them to identify each machine and discuss how they work. Encourage students to think about how these simple machines can be combined to create a chain reaction.

Activity 2: Brainstorming Session (15 minutes)

Do: Bring the class together and facilitate a brainstorming session. Use chart paper to create a mind map or list of simple tasks the students can aim to achieve with their Rube Goldberg machines. Encourage creativity and emphasize the importance of incorporating multiple simple machines into their designs. Tasks include turning on a light, popping a balloon, or ringing a bell.

Activity 3: Planning Phase (30 minutes)

Do: In their small groups, have students start planning their Rube Goldberg contraptions. Provide each group with construction paper, writing materials, and craft supplies. Tell them to sketch their designs, including the sequence of events, the simple machines used, and the required materials. 

Say: Encourage students to think critically about cause-and-effect relationships in their designs.

Activity 4: Building Time (60 minutes)

Do: Allow students ample time to build their Rube Goldberg contraptions using the provided materials. Circulate among the groups to offer guidance, answer questions, and ensure that each group incorporates a variety of simple machines. 

Say: Encourage collaboration and problem-solving as they encounter challenges during the construction process.

Activity 5: Testing and Revising (30 minutes)

Do: Once the contraptions are built, have each group test their Rube Goldberg machines. This may require some adjustments and revisions. 

Say: Encourage students to observe the cause-and-effect relationships in their contraptions and make improvements as needed.

Reflection and Sharing (20 minutes)

Discuss: Bring the class back together for a reflection session. Have each group share their Rube Goldberg contraption with the class, explaining the simple machines used and the purpose of their contraption. Discuss the challenges faced during the design and building process and how they overcame them. 

Say: Encourage students to reflect on the project's importance of teamwork and creativity.


Assess students based on their participation in the brainstorming session, the completeness and creativity of their contraption designs, and their ability to incorporate simple machines into their Rube Goldberg machines. Consider using a rubric that includes criteria such as creativity, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.

Extension Activities

For older students or those who finish early, consider extension activities such as:

  1. Researching and presenting the history of Rube Goldberg machines.

  2. Designing a Rube Goldberg machine with a specific theme, such as a "clean energy" contraption.

  3. Exploring real-world applications of simple machines and chain reactions in engineering.

This lesson provides students with a hands-on opportunity to explore the principles of simple machines and cause and effect through the creation of Rube Goldberg contraptions. It promotes teamwork, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills while fostering creativity and excitement in learning.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
Copyright© 2023 Education World