Remarkable Idea – Cause and Effect of a Rube Goldberg Machine

In this Remarkable Idea, students will explore cause and effect in the simple machines used to make a Rube Goldberg machine.

This activity addresses:
  • Science
  • Engineering
  • Cause and effect
  • Alternative methods of access
What you need:
  • Jelly Bean Switch
  • PowerLink 4
  • TalkingBrix/Picture symbols of simple machines/li>
  • Fan (that will turn on with PowerLink 4)
  • Ball (light enough to be moved by the fan)/li>
  • Books (for inclined plane)/li>
  • Toy car/li>
  • Table/Desk/li>
  • Pulley with cup or small bucket at one end/li>
  • Ruler/li>
  • Duct tape/li>
  • Golf ball/li>
  • Cup
1. Record the names and definitions to the TalkingBrix. In the example, machine, lever, wheel and axle, pulley, and inclined plane are used.
2. Create your symbol overlays using AbleNet’s Symbol Overlay Maker
What to do:
Create a Rube Goldberg Machine
Example Machine
Begin with a Jelly Bean Switch connected to a PowerLink 4 and fan. The fan will be turned on and push the ball down the inclined plane (made from books), which will hit the toy car and push it off the edge of the table into the bucket on the end of the pulley. This will add weight to the bucket and cause the bucket to pull up on the ruler (which is tied to the string on the other side of the pulley, with the golf ball resting on top of it) and make the golf ball roll into the cup.
Note: you may need to add extra weight to the bucket as the car by itself may not be heavy enough.
Label your machine
Use the picture symbols or TalkingBrix to have students label the simple machines within your Rube Goldberg machine.
Challenge students to swap out pieces of the machine or add onto it to make it larger.

Lever – a bar that rests on a support or fulcrum which lifts loads.
Wheel and Axle – a wheel with a rod through the middle which lifts or moves loads.
Pulley – uses grooved wheels and rope to move loads.
Inclined Plan – a slanted surface that connects higher areas to lower areas.
Wedge – two inclined planes put together to meet at a sharp point.
Screw – an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder.

Additional suggestions:
Make your own Rube Goldberg machine or modify the example.
In addition to classroom materials, hardware stores have some great materials that can be re-purposed for Rube Goldberg machines such as PVC pipe, rain gutters, wood, zip ties, etc.
Repurposed materials work well too. Toilet paper or paper towel tubes, the top of a 2-liter soda bottle as a funnel, etc.
Most machines fail, keep trying is half the fun!
Record your Rube Goldberg Machine so you can share the project with other students, staff, and parents.

Examples of Rube Goldberg Machines:
Google has lots of examples of Rube Goldberg machines (a lot of the videos are made by kids who made a machine themselves). Including these advertisements:
Honda “The Cog”
Panera Bread “Live Consciously, Eat Deliciously”
Million Euro Challenge Rube Goldberg Machine

About Remarkable Ideas
Over the course of more than 30-years, we have discovered amazing ways people use AbleNet products to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Remarkable Ideas take these amazing discoveries and provide activities that incorporate alternative methods of access to ensure each student can participate, learn important educational and life skills, and have fun.