If Rube read the Next Generation Science Standards' 8 Practices for Science and Engineering, he might first let out a quiet cheer, then get back to designing the next step in a complicated machine that would zip a zipper or hammer a nail.
A Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM), is an overly complicated machine that performs a simple task, usually through a chain reaction. Building an RGM is a great activity for young people who want to learn the principles of physics.
Named after a Pulitzer-Prize winning 20th century cartoonist, (who was also an engineer), RGMs are a whimsical mix of engineering principles and creative design. They are made of common materials you'd find around your home or garage. You can spend hours watching them on Youtube, from a simple machine to pour milk on your cereal, to more complex contraptions, to commercials for toys that inspire girls to be engineers.
Beyond being great entertainment, creating a RGM takes engineering design skills. RGMs use numerous variations of the six simple machines, among them pulleys, levers and inclined planes. RGM builders usually work in teams, thinking creatively, using principles of physics, mathematics, and the engineering design process to come up with a machine that solves the problem.
This year, Minnesota 4-H is launching the Engineering Design Challenge: Build a Rube Goldberg Machine. It's open to Minnesota third- to eighth-graders. Teams of 3-10, supported by adult volunteer leaders, are invited to develop their own RGMs that will zip a zipper and show them at their county fairs this summer, and the Minnesota State Fair in late August.
As an integral part of this challenge, each team will do online journaling, chat with the other teams across the state about their progress and create a portfolio of their learning experience. They'll be coached by University of Minnesota engineering students. These students and adult volunteers will be trained by Extension STEM faculty, including me.
For those wondering how to best guide an engineering design experience such as a RGM team, check out this short tutorial..
An essential goal in all STEM programming is to engage youth in the eight practices of science and engineering (one phase of the Next Generation Science Standards), which mirror the practices of professional scientists and engineers. Through intentional program design, we can create youth learning experiences that build one or more of the eight practices of science and engineering:
- Asking questions and defining problems
- Developing and using models
- Planning and carrying out investigations
- Analyzing and interpreting data
- Using mathematics and computational thinking
- Constructing explanations and designing solutions
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Have you ever seen one of these competitions, and been inspired to get young people involved in engineering design? Are you engaging young people in the 8 practices of science and engineering? How? What are the needs or barriers you see?
Anne Stevenson, Extension educator and Extension professor
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