Design an imaginary invention to carry out a household task
Grades 4-6

People have always been inventors. Early people needed to invent ways to protect themselves, to gather and store food, and to build shelters. As people have become more sophisticated, so have their inventions. Relatively recent inventions, such as the transistor have brought about major changes in the way we live. Inventions can be huge in scale and impact, such as the internet, or they can be more modest, such as the electric curling iron. Inventions generally make life easier or more pleasant, but sometimes they also require more expense and/or effort on the part of those who use them.

Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a cartoonist who drew cartoons that satirized the human desire to rely increasingly on technology and new inventions. His cartoons showed humans using a complex process to perform a simple task, such as trapping a mouse or squeezing orange juice. Rube Goldberg's name has become synonymous with any complex way of carrying out a simple task. Every year, engineering students   enter a Rube Goldberg contest in which they invent a complex way to perform a simple task, such as putting toothpaste on a brush.

Examples of Rube Goldberg cartoons and inventions can be found on web sites (see list at end). Also, examples of inventions entered in the Rube Goldberg contest each year can also be found on the web.

The teacher discusses the process of invention, from recognizing a need, to thinking about solutions, to experimenting with possible answers. Emphasis should be on the importance of creativity and the variety of solutions for any one problem.

Students use the Blocks to design a Rube Goldberg-type invention to accomplish a simple household task. Examples of tasks could be feeding a pet, waking up, or reaching a high object. Students should be encouraged to include a minimum of five steps.

Student inventions are evaluated for creativity rather than practicality. The inventions should show imagination, and the students should be able to explain how the inventions would work, in theory.

Students should be able to explain their creative process. Did they begin at the end and work back, or did they start at the beginning or middle? What was the most difficult step, and what was the easiest? What were some sources of inspiration?

Students in groups of five or six decide on a theme for their Rube Goldberg-type invention. Then, using \GGB, the first student designs the first step in the process. A new student takes over for each step, until the goal is reached.  This could also be done with an entire class.

Students use the Blocks to design inventions that might exist on other planets where the physical laws of earth (such as gravity) do not exist. Students can rotate the ground of their Blocks pictures to demonstrate an upside-down view.

Students use the Blocks to create truly useful inventions to accomplish a household task. Compare these new inventions, which should have minimal steps, to the Rube Goldberg-type inventions.

Machine Contest

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