A 21st Century Lesson Plan: Rube Goldberg Physics Project

For CEP 810 this week, I was asked to think about and create a 21st century lesson plan inspired by the principles described by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown in their 2011 book “A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change” and by Renee Hobbs in her 2011 book “Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom”.  In my high school co-taught physics classroom we have the students participate in a Rube Goldberg project at the end of our energy and energy transformations unit. In the past, students were shown examples of Rube Goldberg machines in class, they brought in household materials to build their own Rube Goldbergs, and they shared their machines with their classmates. Although this project is fun for students, it takes several days to complete and often class time is wasted when groups forget their materials on designated work days. This assignment gave me the perfect opportunity to revamp the Rube Goldberg project and incorporate some 21st century skill instruction into my curriculum. I am excited for my students to use various technology tools to demonstrate their learning.

The lesson plan I developed (SEEN HERE) is in two parts. It is planned to be taught in two 60 minute class periods. In my lesson, students will synthesize their understanding of energy transformations by finding a video of a Rube Goldberg machine on YouTube and describing 5 energy transformations demonstrated in the Rube Goldberg machine. They will share their responses and the link to their video in a Google Doc.  In part 2, students will create a sketch of their own Rube Goldberg machine that completes a simple task, in which they demonstrate 5 energy transfers, and they will use a web-based tool (Prezi, PowerPoint, WordPress blog post, Google Presentation, etc.) to make a sales pitch presentation to “sell” their Rube Goldberg machine to a selected audience.

Thomas and Brown (2011) suggest that students need to be submersed in a new culture of learning where digital media provide them with information and the opportunity to play. (p. 37-38) In my lesson, students are encouraged to play with the new tech tools such as YouTube and other web-based presentation tools to explore and represent their learning. My lesson also aligns with Renee Hobb’s (2011) five communication competencies:

  • Access- Students use YouTube to find examples of Rube Goldberg machines to analyze, and they share their learning using Google Docs and web-based presentation tools.
  • Analyze- Students use critical thinking to apply the knowledge they have about energy transformations to design their own Rube Goldberg machine.
  • Create- Students use their creativity to create a Rube Goldberg machine and a sales presentation to pitch their machine to a hypothetical audience.
  • Reflect- Students are able to reflect on their learning and the ideas of others during the presentations. They also are given feedback from the teacher which deepens their own thinking.
  • Act- Students act on their learning by using problem solving skills to share knowledge while working individually in part one of the lesson, and in groups on their Rube Goldberg projects in part two.

I am really excited about how I have revamped my Rube Goldberg project to include digital technologies and become more aligned with this new culture of learning. I look forward to implementing it in my co-taught physics classroom!

An original drawing by Rube Goldberg. www.rubegoldberg.com

An original drawing by Rube Goldberg. http://www.rubegoldberg.com


Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace?.



One thought on “A 21st Century Lesson Plan: Rube Goldberg Physics Project

  1. Ben Rimes says:

    This is an amazingly well thought out activity and the lesson plan you’ve linked is great! Love the attention to detail through the simple assessment rubric, and the engagement offered to students by self-selecting their own examples from Youtube to evaluate!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s