2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Pittsburgh, PA. Session 2554.

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The engineering workplace is placing more emphasis on teamwork in interdisciplinary environments, out-of-the-box thinking, creative engineering, and brainstorming. These skills are taught to varying degrees in standard engineering curriculums, and often the most fruitful opportunities exist for students to learn in venues outside of the classroom.

This paper will show how building Rube Goldberg machines is a fantastic way for learners from various disciplines to get hands-on project experience in a team environment. Intense brainstorming and work sessions result in inventive and unique machines that are fascinating for both participants and spectators to watch. In addition, students have opportunities to apply the technical skills they have learned in the classroom in an application where creativity is king but reliability is key.

This paper takes the reader on a journey through the author’s experiences leading a Rube Goldberg team through winning the national championship in 2006. This paper is the result of a deep iterative reflection, assisted by a collaborator in order to pull out the aspects of this experience that illuminate lessons related to design knowledge and learning. The aim of this paper is to identify important areas for future research and build a foundation for a future book intended to engage young learners in innovation and creative problem solving in a problem to product-focused environment. The experiences described in this paper will be particularly interesting to those looking to develop similar learning experiences for their students.

The machine the team built completed a task of individually shredding 5 sheets of 8 1/2" x 11” 20 lb paper into strips using a shredder over 215 steps. This paper will elucidate a successful design process including task determination, theme selection, module brainstorming, storyboard creation, and machine building. Artifacts of the process will be described, including an example of a module design where reliability became a problem that required multiple design iterations to thoroughly solve. Finally, a discussion of storyboarding as a way to promote creativity and innovation in design will be presented.


Robin Adams


ASEE, 2008, Rube Goldberg

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