Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-5 students
Active Time
Part 1: 1 h Part 2: 1h 40min
Total Time
Part 1: 1 h Part 2: 1h 40min
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Kinetic energy, engineering design process
Learning Objectives
  • Understand that the kinetic energy of a moving object is proportional to its mass, or, that kinetic energy of the object doubles when its mass doubles.
  • Understand that the kinetic energy of a moving object is proportional to the square of the speed of the moving object, or, that the kinetic energy of the object quadruples when its speed doubles.
  • Apply the concept of kinetic energy to moving parts of a Rube Goldberg machine.
  • Experience the importance of planning in the engineering design process.
  • Explain how knowledge of scientific principles can help shorten the engineering design process.
Credits
Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies

Overview

Rube Goldberg machines—machines that complete a simple task in a convoluted way—are intriguing, artistic, and fun! In this lesson, students will design and build such a machine themselves and use the concept of kinetic energy in the process. Before students start designing, they will do an experiment that explores how kinetic energy depends on the mass and the speed of the moving object. With a clear understanding of this concept, students then tackle the engineering design process. Watch how students channel their creative energy into constructing a fun and exciting machine!

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-PS3-1. Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object.
  • MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data. Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.
PS3.A: Definitions of Energy. Motion energy is properly called kinetic energy; it is proportional to the mass of the moving object and grows with the square of its speed.

ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems. The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

ETS1.B:: Developing Possible Solutions. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.
Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. Proportional relationships (e.g. speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.

Materials

Part 1: Experimental Exploration of Kinetic Energy

 Materials needed to explore how kinetic energy of a moving object changes with speed and mass.

Per group of 3–4 students:

  • Meterstick
  • Marbles (3)
  • Small disposable cup
  • Pennies (2)
  • Scissors
  • Painter's tape
  • Insulation tape
  • Small box or stack of books to prop up the ramp

Part 2: Building a Rube Goldberg Machine

 Materials for building Rube Goldberg machine

This is an engineering design project, so there is not a specific list of required materials. You can make different materials available to your students or allow them to bring materials from home. In general, recycled items, craft supplies, and office supplies work well.

Options for materials to construct parts:

  • Cardboard (cereal box, shoe box, cardboard panels, etc.)
  • Tubes (cardboard, plastic, insulation tubes, etc.)
  • Paper, plastic, aluminum foil
  • Disposable cups, any size
  • Soda or water bottles or cans
  • Funnels
  • Wooden dowels, craft sticks, chopsticks, skewers, plastic cutlery
  • Building blocks
  • Ruler
  • Balloons
  • Bells
  • Dominoes
  • Fan
  • Ice cubes

Options for materials that connect parts:

  • Painter's tape
  • Glue (a hot glue gun works well)
  • Rubber bands
  • Thread

Options for materials that roll:

  • A variety of balls of different masses, like marbles, ball bearings, ping pong balls, tennis balls, pool balls, etc.
  • Toy cars
  • Roller skates
  • Thread

Options for adding chemistry:

  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Effervescent tablets (avoid medication!) and water

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Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-5 students
Active Time
Part 1: 1 h Part 2: 1h 40min
Total Time
Part 1: 1 h Part 2: 1h 40min
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
Kinetic energy, engineering design process
Credits
Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies
Learning Objectives
  • Understand that the kinetic energy of a moving object is proportional to its mass, or, that kinetic energy of the object doubles when its mass doubles.
  • Understand that the kinetic energy of a moving object is proportional to the square of the speed of the moving object, or, that the kinetic energy of the object quadruples when its speed doubles.
  • Apply the concept of kinetic energy to moving parts of a Rube Goldberg machine.
  • Experience the importance of planning in the engineering design process.
  • Explain how knowledge of scientific principles can help shorten the engineering design process.
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