Published on March 8, 2016
Students will brainstorm ideas and then use the littleBits Invention Cycle to perform a simple task with a chain reaction contraption inspired by Rube Goldberg. Students will use defined constraints and criteria for success to test and then iterate upon their 2+ step contraption to improve its functionality. Conclude the activity by having students create videos of their chain reaction contraption in action.OBJECTIVES
BITS: any Bits
OTHER MATERIALS: See list of commonly used materials on pg. 119 of the STEAM Student Set
ACCESSORIES: any accessories
TOOLS USED: See list of commonly used tools on pg. 119 of the STEAM Student Set
Rube Goldberg Cartoon Gallery (https://www.rubegoldberg.com/gallery/)
Six Rube Goldberg Machines (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFWHbRApS3c)
OK Go Rube Goldberg Machine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8cuuP4Jmio)
Duration: 120 minutes (minimum) *For tips on how to break up your lesson over multiple class periods, see pg. 117 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide
This lesson can be done individually or in small groups (2- 3 students). -For an advanced challenge, have the whole class collaborate to invent a massive contraption!
Each group will need at least one STEAM Student Set and Invention Guide, plus one Invention Log and Assessment Checklist per student. We suggest handing out the Bits in the Create phase to keep students focused on initial instructions and review activities. For more experienced users, you may want to provide access to additional Bits in the Play and Remix phases to provide a greater diversity of circuit combinations. Place a variety of construction materials and tools in a central location in the room.
Introduce the lesson objectives and the concept behind the challenge:
“Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who liked to draw really complicated solutions to very simple problems. For example, to turn the page of a book, you might roll a ball down a ramp that hits a box. Then the box falls over and scares a hamster that starts running on its wheel, that winds up a string that turns the page. In this challenge, you’re going to design your own multistep machines. Before you start inventing, there are two important rules: 1) Once you start your machine, it needs to be able to run without any help from you. Each step must be triggered automatically by the step before it, and 2) Your machine should have at least two steps (bonus points if you can Create more!)”
Share videos and/or cartoons of Rube Goldberg machines to provide context and inspiration.
Most design challenges focus on how life can be made easier by an invention. This challenge is a fun exploration in the opposite direction. How complicated can we make a very simple task? To this end, you may want in favor of a little absurdity and whimsy.
Before jumping into the challenge, provide a quick review of the Invention Cycle framework and the format of the Invention Log (pg. 35 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide). Ask students to Share lessons learned about Bits, the invention process and things they enjoyed or struggled with from previous challenges.
For each of the prompt sections below, students will record their process and reflections in their respective Invention Logs.
What ideas do you have? Prompt students to Create a list (either as a class, or in groups) of everyday activities that only take one step. For example, dropping a can in the recycling bin, flipping on a light switch or opening a book. For brainstorming tips, refer to pg. 36 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide.
Which idea seems best? After making a list of 5- 10 ideas, have students choose the everyday activity that they want to accomplish. It could be the idea that sounds the most fun to solve or is the most accessible in the classroom.
Students should frame their thinking in the following framework: I will invent a_______that______because_____.
What’s the “before” story? What is life like now, before the proposed invention exists? Ask students to draw or describe the series of events before, during and after to show cause-and-effect scenarios. Be sure to consider the characters involved and the setting that the “story” takes place in.
What are the constraints? Constraints are the limits and requirements that need to be considered in the invention process. Examples include time, materials, weight. Have students detail any constraints that they may need to keep in mind as they work. For younger students, you may choose to run this exercise as a class and have students record shared ideas.
What are the criteria for success? How will students know if their invention works? Describe the #1 goal for the invention. What qualities are important for the invention to have?
LITTLEBITS INVENTION CYCLE: CREATE
How did your testing go?
Once the prototypes have been constructed, students should test the steps of their contraption to see if it works. Getting all of the moving pieces to work together is going to be a challenge; failure is part of the process. Encourage students to try running the contraption a few times, doing initial adjustments on angles, connections and materials. Students should take note of successes and things that still need to be improved in their Invention Logs.
LITTLEBITS INVENTION CYCLE: PLAY
To meet the outlined NGSS standards, instruct students to fill out a new Remix section in their Invention Logs (pg. 11 and 12) every time a variable is changed and tested. If you are do not plan to adhere to the NGSS standards, allow students more flexibility and exploratory pathways during this phase of the design process.
PROTOTYPE # 2 (AND MORE...)
This is the opportunity to experiment with fixes and improvements. As students make changes to their inventions, make sure they are documenting in their Invention Logs how their prototypes are changing and the results (good and bad).
If students need some inspiration, set the invention aside and look through the remaining Bits and available materials. Is it possible to complete a step with them? Try a few options and see how they compare to what has already been created.
Continue the Remix phase (and remind students to Play with their updated inventions) until the prototype is able to meet the criteria for success, or until the allotted time runs out. If you need more advice on how to conduct and provide prompts in the Remix phase, read through the Invention Advisor section (p. 36 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide).
LITTLEBITS INVENTION CYCLE: REMIX
Wrap up the challenge by reflecting and tying together the story of the invention. Have students take a video of the contraption in action and post it to your favorite social media channel or the littleBits website.
As an alternative, students can Create their own Rube Goldberg cartoons to describe what their invention is used for and how it works.
LITTLEBITS INVENTION CYCLE: SHARE
At the end of the lesson, students should put away the Bits according to the diagram on the back of the Invention Guide, clean up their materials and hand in their Invention Logs.
Incorporate one (or more!) of the following extensions in the Remix section of this challenge to bolster your lesson’s NGSS applications:
MS-ETS1-4 Engineering Design: Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
- To fulfill this standard, students define and iteratively collect data to explore the explicit connection between the invention and a physical or environmental interaction that may impact the design. For example, modeling the impact of friction on the ability of a wheeled invention to climb a slope, or the impact of an invention on human behavior. The storyboard in the Invention Log should be used and updated throughout the lesson for each iteration tested.