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.


  • Students learn about Rube Goldberg and his famous inventions.
  • Children design an invention that completes a simple task in many steps.
  • Children identify which physics and mechanical principles apply to their invention both in writing and orally.


  • Omit the labels on your drawing. Write a title and the scientific principles that make it work. Now give it to a classmate and ask him or her to supply the missing labels.
  • As a class or a small group, decide upon an invention. Do a large-scale invention on a long piece of craft paper. Ask each person to create and illustrate one step in the process.
  • Construct a 3-D replica of your invention. Use recycled boxes, gift wrap rolls, and other items to make a gigantic sculpture.