My Rube Goldberg

By Carolyne Kellner, January 1, 2007

Grade Level

  • Elementary School

Category

  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Science

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods

Introduction

Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist, most known for depicting humorous complex machines designed to complete a simple task. His designs are visible in cartoons, video games, board games, and more, as they are part of pop culture.  This lesson will introduce students to his work and to the term “Rube Goldberg” used to describe any complicated and long process used to complete a basic task. They will view images of his cartoons and will create their own Rube Goldberg-like “invention.”

Students will appreciate the imaginative and inventive genius of Rube Goldberg, as well as further their understanding of simple concepts in physics.

National Standards

Science
A) Science as Inquiry:
A1) Communicate scientific procedures and explanations
B) Physical Science:
B2) Motion and Forces
E): Science and Technology E
1) Abilities of technological design
E2) Understanding about science and technology
Visual Arts
Standard 2. Using knowledge of structures and function
Standard 3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas
Standard 5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
Standard 6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines
Language Arts
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their word interactions with other readers, and writers, their knowledge of work meaning and of other texts, their world identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound letter correspondence, sentence structure, context and graphics)
4. Students adjust their use of spoke, write, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, and vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to with different audiences for a variety of proposes.

Objectives

Students will:

  • familiarize themselves with the concept of a Rube Goldberg machine
  • understand how design and invention can be combined to solve problems
  • create a drawing of a Rube Goldberg-type machine or invention with the necessary steps (at least seven) to use the machine written underneath
  • find multiple solutions for the same problem
  • use simple physics concepts to create their invention

Resources

Rube Goldberg Web site: http://www.rube-goldberg.com
The images from this website should be used as examples for the class.

Materials

  • white paper
  • pencils
  • thin black markers for final draft
  • erasers

Vocabulary

Any unknown vocabulary words mentioned in the classic Rube Goldberg cartoons should be discussed, for example, "tee," "widow pane," "swish," "cobbler," and “sprinkling can," etc.

Procedures

1. Present images of Rube Goldberg cartoons to the class.
2. As a class, discuss step-by-step the wildly imaginative work of artist Rube Goldberg.
3. Explain to the students that design solves a problem, as exhibited in the cartoons.
4. Tell the class that they will be creating a design to solve a simple task. 
5. Pass out copies of Rube Goldberg cartoons to the students for inspiration.
6. As a class, brainstorm possible ideas for inventions, for example, "How to Stop a Baby from Crying," "Homework Machine," "How to put a Scoop of Ice Cream on a Cone," and hold a discussion about possible ideas.
7. Pass out paper and pencils to the students so that they can begin their designs. Remind the students that their inventions should have at least seven steps.
8. Once they have created their design, students should write out the steps necessary to make the invention work beneath their image.
9. Encourage students to make as many drafts as necessary.
10. Each student should present the final draft of their design to the class.

Assessment

  • Student can talk about the inventions and designs created by Rube Goldberg.
  • Student can explain their invention and the process they took to create it.
  • Student used at least 7 steps to make their invention work and those steps are included in their drawing.
  • Student can explain the steps and the process needed to use the invention.

Enrichment Extension Activities

As a class or for homework, watch videos of three-dimensional, moving Rube Goldberg-type machines. Students can then create their own moving 3-D model of a Rube Goldberg-inspired machine.
Students can research how Rube Goldberg has influenced game design, cartoons, and animation, and provide examples.
Students can further their understanding of the concepts of motion and animation by creating flip books.

Teacher Reflection

This project was extremely successful on two points: students designed a solution to a problem following specific criteria with overwhelming success, and secondly, they wrote about the sequential steps of their design well. This was an important literacy component. We posted all of the designs, with the criteria, and the class’s brainstorm list (including titles like "How to Put your Baby Brother/Sister to Sleep," "Homework Machine," "How to put a Scoop of Ice Cream on a Cone," "How to Make your Baby Sister/Brother Stop Crying") around the classroom.

This lesson encouraged students to think and have fun at the same time. The students had already encountered Rube Goldberg type inventions in their interaction with certain video games, on television, and in cartoons. Each student successfully solved the problem individually and uniquely.

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