The Challenge

Car jack, forklift, pulley, dumb bell curl: there are lots of ways to hoist an object off the ground cleanly and efficiently. Not here! In the tradition of the famous Rube Goldberg, you and your team will create a device that defies gravity using at least two mechanical steps to raise an object – or objects – one meter off the ground.

Here is what your team needs to do:

  • Design and create a Rube Goldberg machine that performs the following task:
  • Raise an object or multiple objects weighing a total of three kilograms a minimum of one meter off the ground.

In addition to accomplishing the task, your contraption should meet these conditions in order to qualify as successful:

  • The weight(s) must transition from one machine to another. One counterweight on a pulley won’t do. You must use at least two different forms of energy.
  • Humans can start the process but cannot interfere after that.
  • The contraption has to be off the grid – you can’t plug it in.
  • Diagram your plan making sure it labels the energy transitions in the project and where they take place

Your video documenting this process must include: 1) the paper design phase, 2) a brief introduction of the man, Rube Goldberg; 3) the construction phase, 4) trial runs, and, 5) a successful run, OR a debrief on why your machine didn’t work.

Onward and upwards!

Deliverables include:

  • The documentary (this is the only Meridian Stories deliverable)
  • Paper Design (at teacher’s discretion)


Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame – We recommend that this Meridian Stories Competition takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length – All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.


Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).

Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the media work.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the media. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area.


Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Resources section of the site for guidance.


Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the story you are trying to tell.


Slate – All media work must begin with a slate that provides:

  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from or related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use it for educational purposes only; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.


Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.

Presentation – We strongly recommend that at the end of this process, the student teams present their work either to the class and/or to assembled parents and friends as a way to showcase their work. The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These short videos provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills.


Our research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for two additional reasons:

  1. Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s; and
  2. The public setting – painful as it is for some students – provides them with an opportunity to ‘own’ their work and to be more accountable.


  • Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.


During Phase I, student teams will:

  • Research Rube Goldberg and his machines.
    • Gather information about Rube Goldberg – including visuals — to include in your documentary. You won’t want to spend more than thirty seconds on this aspect of your deliverable.
  • Research types of energy (mechanical, chemical, electrical, thermal) that you may want to use in your machine.
  • Brainstorm about the format for the documentary you are producing about your processes for designing and building your own Rube Goldberg machine.
    • Decide on what footage needs to be shot live and what stills or images – if any – need to be researched for use in the documentary.
    • Decide if the final documentary would benefit from any live interviews and if so, with whom?
  • Create a detailed plan to design, build and test your machine so that you can correlate the shooting of that plan with your documentary.


During Phase II, student teams will:

  • Design your machine on paper.
    • Teacher’s Option: Paper Design – Teachers may require that teams hand in their Paper Design for feedback, complete with explanations of the proposed energy transfers.
  • Acquire materials
  • Build machine
  • Test machine
    • During all of the above, shoot as scheduled according to your documentary plan.
    • Keep in mind: this is not about the machine working. Failed attempts is often where we learn the most…as long as we can identify why the machine failed.


During Phase III, student teams will:

  • Alter the machine to perform as desired (film a successful run…hopefully!)
  • Organize all your information – from the Rube Goldberg research to the design, building, testing and implementation phase. Create documentary rundown.
  • Keep in mind in your documentary, you are telling a story. You are not simply ‘documenting’ your work. You want to engage your audience with a story about your processes of discovery. So consider these questions as you put together your narrative:
    • Was there an ‘aha’ moment that could serve as the core around which the story revolves?
    • Was there a mistake (miscalculation) – a major one – that you could feature, knowing that that mistake was corrected?
    • If the machine didn’t work, how did the team feel about that? Is it clear why the machine didn’t work?
    • Rube Goldberg machines are all about making science fun – about complicating scientific ideas for the sake of challenge and engagement. Is there a way to showcase the ‘fun’ that you had during this process?
  • Assemble the video in rough order of appearance.
  • Record voice over, as desired.
  • Edit the video, adding stills and graphics as desired.
  • Post-produce the video, adding music and sound effects as desired.


Media Support Resources

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams.

1.    Media Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three to four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative media professionals who offer important advice, specifically produced for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Meridian Tips – These are short documents that offer student teams a few key tips in the areas of creativity and production.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Challenge include:

 Media Innovators and Artists Meridian Tips
On Documentary Films – Sarah Childress

On Film Producing – Tom Pierce

On Non-fiction – Margaret Heffernan

On Making Documentaries – Margaret Heffernan

“Conducting an Interview”

“Creating a Short Documentary”

“Six Principle Modes of Documentary Filmmaking”

“Producing: Time Management”

“Sound Editing Basics”

  • Evaluation Rubric – Rube Goldberg Contraption – Defying Gravity


Criteria 1 – 3 4 – 7 8 – 10  
Communication of Content – Design and Construction


The paper design and construction of the contraption are illogical or difficult to understand The paper design is logical, but the construction of the contraption is not implemented well


The paper design is logical and the construction of the contraption is well-implemented


Forces/Energy The project demonstrates little understanding of the physical concepts of force and energy


The project reveals sufficient understanding of the physical concepts of force and energy


The project reveals a thorough understanding of the physical concepts of force and energy


Conditions of the Challenge – Transitions and Energy The conditions of the challenge involving energy transitions, types of energy, and height/weight requirements are not met


The conditions of the challenge involving energy transitions, types of energy, and height/weight requirements are met, but they are neither clearly presented nor incorporated creatively The conditions of the challenge involving energy transitions, types of energy, and height/weight requirements are fulfilled in a creative manner  
Criteria 1 – 3 4 – 7 8 – 10  
Rube Goldberg Biography Your introduction to Rube Goldberg is flat and unengaging Your introduction to Rube Goldberg is informative Your introduction to Rube Goldberg is compelling  
Documentation –Planning, Construction, Trials The documentation of the creation and testing of the Rube Goldberg machine is difficult to follow and incomplete The documentation of the creation and testing of the Rube Goldberg machine is comprehensive, but sometimes difficult to follow The documentation of the creation and testing of the Rube Goldberg machine is presented clearly and thoroughly  
Scripting & Narration The scripting and voice over is ineffective and not engaging The scripting and voice over is inconsistently engaging The scripting and voice over is compelling and effective  
Criteria 1 – 3 4 – 7 8 – 10
Visual Shot Selection The visual shots do not effectively communicate the content The visual shots inconsistently communicate the content


The visual shots effectively and engagingly communicate the content


Editing The documentary feels patched together and the overall editing detracts from the narrative The documentary flows, but there are occasional editing distractions The documentary is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging video experience
Music The choice of music distracts from the content of the documentary The choice of music works inconsistently with the content of the documentary The choice of music enhances the tone and complements the content and story


21ST CENTURY SKILLS COMMAND (for teachers only)
Criteria 1-3 4-7 8-10
Collaborative Thinking The group did not work together effectively and/or did not share the work equally The group worked together effectively and had no major issues The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group did not make a solid effort to create anything new or innovative The group was able to brainstorm new and inventive ideas, but was inconsistent in their evaluation and implementation of those ideas The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group was unable to set attainable goals, work independently and manage their time effectively The group required some additional help, but was able to complete the project on time with few problems The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project

Essential Questions

  1. How do you predict an object’s motion (whether continued motion, changes in motion, or stability)?
  2. What underlying forces explain the variety of interactions observed?
  3. How is energy transferred?
  4. How are forces and energy related?
  5. How has physical construction and testing of a contraption deepened your understanding of the underlying concepts of physics?
  6. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media – exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills – deepened the overall educational experience?
  7. How has working on a team – practicing one’s collaborative skills – changed the learning experience?


Student Proficiencies

  1. The student will have a greater understanding of how the forces between objects describe how their motions change or remain the same. The student will have a practical understanding of Newton’s first law, and realize that an object’s motion is the result of the net sum of all the forces acting upon it. For two interacting objects, the student will understand the practical application of Newton’s third law. Depending on the contraption, students may also understand the applications of Newton’s second law to macroscopic objects.
  2. The student will have a greater understanding of some of the major types of interaction and their physical manifestations: gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear interactions.
  3. The student will have a more complete awareness of the forms and applications of energy, which can be manifested in various ways (such as motion, sound, light, thermal energy, etc.) and transferred in various processes, whether mechanical, chemical, or electrical.
  4. The student will understand that forces between objects – force fields – contain energy and can transmit energy across space, and that changing forces between interacting objects also changes the energy in the force field between the objects.
  5. The student will be able to practice and experiment with the relevant academic concepts.
  6. The student will utilize key 21st century skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating STEAM content into a new narrative format.
  7. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important 21st century skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.



NGSS Curricular Correlations

The Rube Goldberg Contraption – Defying Gravity Documentary Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that are articulated in the Next Generation Science Standards. Below please find the standards that are addressed, either wholly or in part.


Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)


High School – Forces and Motion, Definitions of Energy

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration. (HS-PS2-1)
  • Use mathematical representations to support the claim that the total momentum of a system of objects is conserved when there is no net force on the system. (HS-PS2-2)
  • Use mathematical representations of Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Coulomb’s Law to describe and predict the gravitational and electrostatic forces between objects. (HS-PS2-4)
  • Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects). (HS-PS3-2)
  • Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy. (HS-PS3-3)


Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • The structure and interactions of matter at the bulk scale are determined by electrical forces within and between atoms. (PS1.A, secondary to HS-PS2-6)
  • Newton’s second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects. (PS2.A HS-PS2-1)
  • Momentum is defined for a particular frame of reference; it is the mass times the velocity of the object. (PS2.A HS-PS2-2)
  • Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Coulomb’s law provide the mathematical models to describe and predict the effects of gravitational and electrostatic forces between distant objects. (PS2.B HS-PS2-4)
  • “Electrical energy” may mean energy stored in a battery or energy transmitted by electric currents (PS3.A, secondary to HS-PS2-5)
  • Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed (ETS1.C, secondary to HS-PS2-3)
  • At the macroscopic scale, energy manifests itself in multiple ways, such as in motion, sound, light, and thermal energy. (HS-PS3-2) (HS-PS3-3)
  • Conservation of energy means that the total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system. (HS-PS3-1)
  • Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. (HS-PS3-1),(HS-PS3-4)
  • Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment. (HS-PS3-3),(HS-PS3-4)


Middle School – Forces and Motion, Definitions of Energy

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects (MS-PS2-1)
  • Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact. (MS-PS2-5)
  • Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer. (MS-PS3-3)


Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton’s third law). (MS-PS2-1)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (MS-PS2-2)
  • Electric and magnetic (electromagnetic) forces can be attractive or repulsive, and their sizes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, or magnetic strengths involved and on the distances between the interacting objects. (MS-PS2-3)
  • A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions. (MS-PS3-2)
  • When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time. (MS-PS3-5)
  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (MS-PS3-2)