Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Rube Goldberg Project

Posted on: May 29, 2008

We just finished this project today. It makes me nuts, but I like the results. My room looks like a junkyard for almost a month. You have to be able to live with chaos or don’t try this in school.

If you are familiar with the game “Mousetrap” then you get the idea of the project. This year, I let the students choose their groups, they made up teams of four or five students. With twenty groups in all, they set out to create their own ten step project.

It seems easy, but it is more challenging than it first appears. The students had about three weeks of class time to try to make these work. They bring in old toys, dollar store junk, and anything they can find to create their project. It culminates with a full day of setting up and presenting their projects to the rest of the school.

The link below is a shortened version of one of the videos I use to introduce the topic. This is the Mythbusters Christmas special. In the full length version (I recommend that one over the linked file), they take quite a few attempts for them to make it work all the way through, and they do this kind of stuff for a living.

Some helpful documents for your use:     Rube Goldberg Rules score-sheet-rev-c (5/29/09 –  I’ve updated the scoring rubric to include a minimum time for the machine to run)

Also, if you Google “rube goldberg” you will get an endless supply of videos, including a large number of Japanese projects with an odd and addictive little ditty.  I’d like to know what the little flags say, can someone translate?


5 Responses to "Rube Goldberg Project"

The name of the show is Pitagora Suichi which translates Pythagoras Switch…and that’s what the flags say. In fact, that is the little jingle they say in Japanese at the beginning and end. Definitely addictive to watch.

Finals are done and I have a few minutes to review the RG projects from this year. I gave the kids three four-day weeks of class time to build their projects this year. They complained they needed more time, but I know it’s the crunch at the end that makes the project, another week wouldn’t have made a difference.

We had a few really good projects, with two groups winning gift cards. My personal favorite had a rather elaborate process to stir chocolate syrup in milk. In short, objects traveled and collided on a table, triggered a mouse trap, dropped a ball to a track suspended under the table, down to the floor in a cup-tilt cascade, launched a car, knocked down a bottle of water that pulled a cord that stirred the milk.

My other favorite ran a train, started the game Perfection, burnt through a string, released cars and moved levers to put Jiffy Pop onto an electric burner and finally pop popcorn as their final step.

Both projects were excellent, and if I get time and can edit out the kids, I’ll post a video of them in action.

Like a Newbie, I’m always looking on the web for content articles that can support me. Thank you

I did a project like this as a high school physics student (mine poured pancake batter onto an electric griddle), and now that I am about to begin teaching my own physics class for the first time, I’m very eager to try it out. Do you have any suggestions for bringing in some physical/mathematical analysis of the components? I am considering doing a Rube Goldberg project as a compilation of mechanics (so end of the fall semester-ish). Perhaps the students could be required to submit a few physics explanations and calculations of their machine?

Hi Amanda,
Because I end the year with this project, I have questions about it on the final exam. I ask them to choose three of the steps, name the principle involved, define the principle, then explain how the principle is applied or demonstrated in the step. That is where ball, dog, ball came from on my recent post.

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