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Freshman Projects The Hard Way (A La Goldberg)

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.295.1 - 3.295.10

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Paper Authors

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William Park

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2553

Freshman Projects the Hard Way (a la Goldberg)

William Park Clemson University


Design and construction of devices in the style of Rube Goldberg is being used as the primary motivational structure for teaching engineering design and teamwork to freshmen. The early trials began with each team of nominally four students designing a device to perform a simple function (e.g. crushing an aluminum can). This has evolved to projects involving two four member teams working together to implement a pair of devices which must interact to accomplish the overall goal. For example, the most recent semester’s project was a coin-operated vending machine. One team’s device had to accept a coin, verify that it is a quarter, then activate the other team’s machine. When activated, the other group’s device must deliver one of three products as selected by the user. The inter-group communications required to resolve common issues provides an extra dimension in team building skills.

Many requirements and restrictions are specified for the projects and involve parameters such as maximum cost, size, and weight; minimum number of separate operations performed to accomplish the task (Goldberg’s approach); minimum and maximum amount of time allowed for the device to perform the task; and safety factors as well as numerous others.

Final oral and written reports must be presented, including both a User’s Manual, and a Technical Report. The Technical Report includes mathematical analyses of the various parts of the machines as well as fabrication procedures and a cost analysis. An informal (though graded) preliminary demonstration is held about two weeks before the official public demonstration to which the general public is invited.


Three years ago, the freshman engineering curriculum at Clemson University was completely overhauled. Replacing the standard freshman programming course (FORTRAN) during the second semester was ENGR 120, a new course in engineering computation, problem solving and design. A group project was designated to be an integral part of this new course. With about a dozen professors from eight different departments teaching the course, the implementation of the project and its integration into the course content has varied considerably from section to section. This paper documents my choices and progress toward this goal.

Park, W. (1998, June), Freshman Projects The Hard Way (A La Goldberg) Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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