Goldberg’s Gears

Goldberg’s Gears lesson plan

Make the simple complicated! Design an invention in the imaginative style Rube Goldberg. Draw a self-operating chain reaction that shows you understand physics and mechanics.

  • 1.

    Reuben Lucius Goldberg graduated with an engineering degree from the University of California. After 6 months of working at a water and sewers department, he changed his career and became a cartoonist. His cartoons were pictures of complicated inventions that did simple tasks. For example, he might have a 12-step process to use a napkin at the table. He also used odd materials such as pets, food items, clocks, and gears in his inventions.

  • 2.

    Find some of Rube Goldberg’s famous cartoons of inventions. What simple task does each accomplish? List the steps in the process. What equipment does Goldberg use? Which scientific principles---such as gravity, acceleration, momentum, and leverage---apply?

  • 3.

    Choose a simple task. Think about how you could do this task in 10 or more steps. On white paper, use Crayola® Colored Pencils to list the steps involved in your process.

  • 4.

    On more white paper, use Crayola Twistables™, Washable Markers, and Colored Pencils to draw your invention. Label each part of the process with a letter, just like Goldberg did.

  • 5.

    Which principles of physics and mechanics apply to your invention? Write the principles on your drawing. Explain how your invention works to your classmates.


  • LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
  • LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • SCI: Define a practical problem that can be solved through the development of a simple system that requires the periodic application of a force initiated by a feedback mechanism to maintain a stable state.
  • VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.
  • VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.


  • Possible classroom resources include: Inventions!: 30 Rube Goldberg Postcards by Rube Goldberg; Rube Goldberg: Inventions! by Maynard Frank Wolfe; Gizmos & Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) by Jill Frankel Hauser; Build a Better Mousetrap: Make Classic Inventions, Discover Your Problem Solving Genius, and Take the Inventor's Challenge by Ruth Kassinger; Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Katherine Themmish
  • Students label their invention step sketches with a title and a description of the scientific principles that make it work.
  • Working in small groups, students investigate the workings of a machine or system that appears relatively simple. Students re-design the workings of this machine or system, increasing the steps to completion of a task. Students sketch their steps using Crayola Colored Pencils. Students create a 3-D model of their machine or system that displays each of the sketched steps. Students perform their chosen task for the class or video-tape the performance for class viewing.
  • Working as a whole class, have students select an invention to investigate. Do a large-scale sketch of the invention on a long piece of craft paper. Each student participates in creating and illustrative one step in the process.