K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • Stay still: In this lesson students will learn about stability. They will design and build an earthquake-proof house that takes into account the forces acting upon it and the materials with which it will be built. The house will be tested in a “shake table.” Students will be assessed by the product itself as well as their analysis of the results of the test.
  • Solving problems using simple machines: This lesson uses the familiar story of the three pigs and the big bad wolf to explore how the wolf could have used simple machines to catch the three pigs. By reading, analyzing, and evaluating the wolf's use of simple machines in The 3 Pigs and the Scientific Wolf by Mary Fetzer, the students will design and justify their own machine to help the wolf catch those pigs!
  • Jellybean equations: Students will build chemical compounds using jelly beans and toothpicks to visually balance chemical equations.

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Learning outcomes

Students should:

  1. Understand the basic simple machines.
  2. Evaluate the mechanical advantage of simple machines.
  3. Design simple and compound machines.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

90 minutes


  • An example of a Rube Goldberg cartoon is needed. An example can be found in the Holt textbook, Physical Science (Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1994), page 116. You may also obtain a copy from your media center.
  • Large paper (poster board, large cardboard, newsprint, several feet of rolled paper, etc.)
  • Magic markers or crayons


Students will need to know the following:

  • What is work?
  • How do machines multiply force without multiplying work?
  • How is mechanical advantage calculated?


  1. Give some history of Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons by Rube Goldberg.
  2. Show an example of Goldberg’s work and follow each segment to the completion of his designated task.
  3. Explain that the team of students (seems to work best with two students per team) is to decide on a simple chore or task and devise a “Rube Goldberg” way to accomplish this activity.


  1. Observe team’s ideas and progress.
  2. Check to see if the five simple machines are incorporated in the design.
  3. Determine if the machines will accomplish the tasks they are designed to complete.
  4. Creativity and imagination are also assessed.

Supplemental information


After seeing a Rube Goldberg cartoon in our textbook, it reminded me that his work became an American idiom. The term, “a Rube Goldberg,” meant an incredibly complicated, impractical scheme or device. Younger teachers may have to research more about Mr. Goldberg, but those of us who grew up in the 1940’s will be familiar with his work.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 7

        • 7.P.2 Understand forms of energy, energy transfer and transformation and conservation in mechanical systems. 7.P.2.1 Explain how kinetic and potential energy contribute to the mechanical energy of an object. 7.P.2.2 Explain how energy can be transformed from...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 7

  • Goal 1: The learner will design and conduct investigations to demonstrate an understanding of scientific inquiry.
    • Objective 1.05: Analyze evidence to:
      • Explain observations.
      • Make inferences and predictions.
      • Develop the relationship between evidence and explanation.
    • Objective 1.07: Prepare models and/or computer simulations to:
      • Test hypotheses.
      • Evaluate how data fit.
  • Goal 6: The learner will conduct investigations, use models, simulations, and appropriate technologies and information systems to build an understanding of motion and forces.
    • Objective 6.02: Analyze simple machines for mechanical advantage and efficiency.
    • Objective 6.05: Describe and measure quantities that characterize moving objects and their interactions within a system:
      • Time.
      • Distance.
      • Mass.
      • Force.
      • Velocity.
      • Center of mass.
      • Acceleration.