Family STEM: Rube Goldberg Machines

By Lisa M. Blank, Oregon Coast STEM Hub

Now that many of us are home 24/7, are the dirty dishes piling up beyond control? Is the laundry everywhere? Perhaps a Rube Goldberg machine can help!

Example of a Rube Goldberg machine
Image from https://www.designboom.com/design/kyle-bean-jonathan-knowles-lauren-catten-complex-simplicities-rube-goldberg-machine-07-05-2017/

Rube Goldberg machines use a series of chain reactions to perform a simple task in the most ridiculously complicated way. In fact, the more complicated the better.

Rube Goldberg cartoon of a self-operating napkin

Why are these contraptions called Rube Goldberg machines? Because the idea began with a man named Rube Goldberg. He was an engineer turned cartoonist whose most famous cartoons chronicled “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butt.”

Image: Rube Goldberg comic
Wikimedia Commons

Today, Rube Goldberg machines are not just whimsical cartoon images, but are required projects in many engineering programs across the US and a growing national obsession. Learn more about Rube Goldberg and how he viewed his cartoons as social commentary.

To join in the fun and support your family in designing and building your own Rube Goldberg machine (and possibly picking up the laundry), follow the steps below.

INSPIRE

Spark your family’s interest in building a Rube Goldberg machine by sharing this video about someone who uses one to serve himself a piece of cake.

Challenge your family to watch the video a second time with an eye for the materials and strategies used.

Don’t be intimidated! Your family’s Rube Goldberg machine need not be as complex as The Cake Server. (Also, we don’t recommend using open flames in your design!) Check out these cool builds by young learners:

And these by elementary-aged learners:

IDENTIFY A PROBLEM

What will your machine do? As a team, decide what problem your family would like to solve. If this is a struggle, consider sharing some of the ideas below.

hand bell
  • Place dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Drop soap into a hand
  • Water a plant
  • Turn a light off/on
  • Fill a glass with water
  • Ring a bell

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

Depending on the ages of your team members, you can set a minimum and/or maximum number of steps to solve the problem.

FUN FACT: In the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, engineering college students compete to design a machine that uses the most complex process to complete a simple task. Competing machines must be composed of a minimum of 20 steps and a maximum of 75, and they must complete their run in under two minutes. Teams are permitted to use no more than two air compressors, power cords, or water hoses. Elements of the machine may not travel beyond a 10-square-foot footprint, and machines can be no more than eight feet tall.

BUILD IT!

  1. Sketch out your machine before building it.
  2. Identify the materials you need. Here is a suggested material list from Tinkerlab.
  3. Start building! Test your designs as you go and make adjustments as necessary.
  4. If your team gets stuck, here are some Rube Goldberg techniques you can try:
(Image used under license from Shutterstock.com)
  • Auto-tilt
  • Trigger
  • Flip Switcher
  • Page Turner
  • Ball Riser
  • Small Nudge

See each technique in action

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Explore how Rube Goldberg machines demonstrate Newton’s Laws.

NEWTON’S LAWS

Newton's Cradle

First Law: An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. 

In other words, if an object is not moving, it will not start moving by itself. If an object is moving, it will not stop or change direction unless something pushes it.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com


F = ma

Second Law: Force is equal to the change in momentum with a change in time. 

In other words, objects will move farther and faster when they are pushed harder.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com


Example of Newton's Third Law

Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

In other words, when an object is pushed in one direction, there is always resistance of the same size in the opposite direction.

Image used under license from Shutterstock.com

To learn more visit:


Challenge your family to find examples in your team’s machine that demonstrate each of Newton’s Laws.

For example, let’s take Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the video below, how can you use Newton’s Third Law to explain why the dominoes failed to fall in certain places?

Answer: Without an action or force, there can be no reaction.

CELEBRATE AND SHARE

1. Make a video of your creation and share it on the Oregon Coast STEM Facebook Page, or email OregonCoastSTEM@oregonstate.edu a YouTube or Vimeo video (set to Public view). We can’t wait to see it!

2. Is your family tired of washing their hands? Give it a new twist by joining the Rube Goldberg Bar of Soap Video Challenge. Submit your video by May 31!

GOING FURTHER

Career Connections
Building a Rube Goldberg machine uses many of the same skill sets as a mechanical engineer. Most of the products in your life have been touched in some way by a mechanical engineer, from your shampoo bottles and microwave to your family’s car. If you enjoyed this challenge, check out the links below to learn more about a career in mechanical engineering:
* Educating Engineers
* OSU SMILE Mechanical Engineering Project

Real-World Connections
What problems have emerged in your recent daily life that could be enhanced by a silly Rube Goldberg solution? Tackle a challenge that is relevant to a current situation, such as:

  • Turning on and off the sink faucet without touching the handle, or 
  • Delivering something to someone quarantined in another room

Lisa M. Blank is the Director of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

The 2020 Family STEM series is brought to you by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub and its partners as part of its Let’s Keep Learning! Initiative. You can find more resources, live events, and lessons on our website: https://oregoncoaststem.oregonstate.edu/

Sun and Wind in the STEM Forecast

By Cait Goodwin

More than 170 elementary and middle school students converged on OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center on March 5th to compete in the 7th annual Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge hosted by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. For weeks leading up to the event, students from Lincoln City, Newport, Waldport, and Florence researched renewable energy, explored existing and emerging technologies, and worked in teams building their own model devices. At the competition, students put their wind and solar energy devices to the test to see how their devices performed.

More than 40 teams designed wind turbines and tested them in a wind tunnel to determine which device produced the most energy. Students made their turbines from materials ranging from cardboard to 3-D printed plastic; their models varied in the number, size, shape, and angle of turbine blades. In addition, 22 teams tested solar boats in outdoors water tanks to see which model traveled the fastest. A variety of boat shapes and materials were represented, with designs using everything from plastic water bottles, duct tape and cork, to cardboard.

In all, 40 science and engineering professionals volunteered at the event, helping with judging, scoring, and operating testing stations. Each student team was interviewed by a pair of Engineering Judges. Points were awarded based on student responses to questions about how the team’s device worked and their design process. The judges were impressed with the students, their designs, and their ability to explain the reasons why their device performed as it did.

Employment in the Renewable Energy sector provides high wage jobs for those with strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills. By engaging students in hands-on STEM activities with real-world connections, the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge aims to get young people excited about STEM and STEM careers.

Winners of this year’s Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge are listed below. Top wind teams are invited to participate in the National KidWind Challenge in Houston, Texas in May.

 

 

2019 Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Winners:

WIND ENERGY

1st Place          Ms. Kilduff’s team #10 “Keelah & Sugar”, Crestview Heights School – Waldport

2nd Place          Ms. Saxton’s team #6 “Windwalkers” from Crestview Heights School – Waldport

3rd Place          Ms. Hill’s team #4 “Tornado Turbines” from Crestview Heights School – Waldport

 

SOLAR ENERGY

1st Place          Ms. LaMarche’s team #5 “Famous Four” from Taft Elementary – Lincoln City

2nd Place          Ms. LaMarche’s team #1 “The Monsters” from Taft Elementary – Lincoln City

3rd Place          Ms. McDermott’s team #3 “Orange Team” from Sam Case School – Newport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cait Goodwin is the Communications Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. If you would like to share your Oregon Coast STEM education story on this blog, contact her at cait.goodwin@oregonstate.edu.

North Bend SeaPerch Competition

By Guest Contributor: Darren Sinko

On Saturday December 1st, the North Bend Middle School Science Club competed at the North Bend Pool in a SeaPerch Competition against a group of science students from North Bend High School.North Bend Middle School Science Club

SeaPerch is a program in which students build and operate a simple Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) which can perform tasks underwater. At a SeaPerch Competition, students maneuver their ROVs through an obstacle course or use it to retrieve objects. In the past year, three SeaPerch competitions have been held in North Bend.

SeaPerch is one of two programs on the Oregon Coast that engage students in building and competing with underwater robots. In contrast to the MATE ROV program, SeaPerch involves simpler materials and competition requirements, which makes it an attractive option for middle school educators and students.

At Saturday’s SeaPerch competition, several middle school club members distinguished themselves by winning medals in multiple events.

 

RESULTS

Scavenger Hunt Event

  • 1st Place  – 7th graders Orion Sinko and Beau Parrott
  • 2nd Place  – 8th graders Payten Henderson and Gillian Baxter
  • 3rd Place – 6th grader Jackson Allen

Obstacle Course

  • 1st Place – 9th grader Johnny Flanagan and Madden Robertson
  • 2nd Place – 7th graders Orion Sinko and Beau ParrottSeaPerch ROV engages in the Coat Rack Scavenger Hunt
  • 3rd Place – 9th grader Sadie Wolfe

Coat Hanger Scavenger Hunt

  • 1st Place – 7th graders Orion Sinko and Beau Parrott
  • 2nd Place – 8th graders Payten Henderson and Gillian Baxter
  • 3rd Place – 6th grader Jackson Allen

The North Bend Science Club will be hosting another SeaPerch competition in early May at the North Bend Pool. Teachers who are interested in entering their students in this competition should contact Mr. Darren Sinko at North Bend Middle School.

Read more about the North Bend SeaPerch Competition in The World Link.

7th grade North Bend students

8th grader from North Bend Middle School Science Club competes with her SeaPerch ROV 8th graders from North Bend Middle School Science Club get ready to compete with their SeaPerch ROV

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Darren Sinko teaches science at North Bend Middle School, mentors the North Bend Science Club, and coordinates the SeaPerch competition in North Bend, OR. He can be reached at dsinko@nbend.k12.or.us

North Bend School District is a partner in the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

Students Demonstrate Power

By Tracy Crews

Student tests solar boat at 2018 Oregon Coast Renewable Energy ChallengeHow can wind, waves, and sunlight provide coastal communities with electricity? To demonstrate the answer, Oregon coast students are invited to design models of wind, wave, and solar energy devices and bring them to the 6th annual Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge in March.

Oregon Sea Grant hosts the annual Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, and this year’s competition will be held on March 5, 2019. The event provides students in grades 3-12 opportunities to learn about renewable energy options that are currently being investigated along the Oregon Coast, and provides support and context for teachers seeking to integrate real-world science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in their classrooms.

Student designed solar energy deviceAt last year’s Challenge sponsored by the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, more than 170 students brought their renewable energy devices to the HMSC Visitor Center to test in wave tanks, a wind tunnel, or under high-powered lights to see which designs produced the greatest amount of energy. In addition, 25 volunteer judges from research and industry were on site to interact with students, assess student designs, and provide feedback.

In preparation for the Challenge, students researched renewable energy, practiced the engineering design process as they developed, built and tested their prototypes, and created a marketing poster detailing the strengths and benefits of their design. At the event, students further communicated their learning by interacting with other students and adults at the competition, as well as providing an engineering presentation to a panel of volunteer judges.

Students tell judges about their designs at the 2018 Oregon Coast Renewable Energy ChallengeAccording to an engineering judge who volunteered at the 2018 competition, “One strength of the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge is students’ involvement with the scientific, problem solving, and engineering design processes. And, seeing the enthusiasm and pride the students had in their work was fun!”

One teacher who brought students to last year’s competition reflected, “I appreciated the high interest and developing curiosity that purposely connects to this challenge. It touched my heart to hear youngsters using scientific vocabulary and investigations in their explanations about their engineer designs.

Student tests solar boat at 2018 Oregon Coast Renewable Energy ChallengeUpper grade level student teams that win at the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge are invited to participate in the KidWind National Challenge, providing them the opportunity to face top wind and solar energy teams from across the US.

The Oregon Coast STEM Hub will be scheduling educator workshops for teachers and mentors along the Oregon Coast who are interested in bringing students to this year’s competition. Keep an eye on the Professional Development page of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub website for announcements of these opportunities. For more information, contact tracy.crews@oregonstate.edu.

 

 

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Tracy Crews is the Marine Education Program Manager for Oregon Sea Grant, the Student STEM Experiences Coordinator for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, and the coordinator for the Oregon Coast Renewable Energy Challenge.