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Rube Goldbergineering: Lessons In Teaching Engineering Design To Future Engineers

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Early Engineering Design Experiences

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1038.1 - 14.1038.14



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Paper Authors


Shawn S Jordan Purdue University

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SHAWN JORDAN is a doctoral candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interests include virtual cross-disciplinary engineering design teams, creativity, and innovation. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also founded and led an interdisciplinary Rube Goldberg team to two national championships.

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Nielsen Pereira Purdue University

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NIELSEN PEREIRA is a third-year doctoral student at Purdue University where he is pursuing a degree in gifted education. He is coordinator of student programs for the Gifted Education Resource Institute (GERI). He has worked with GERI teachers helping them develop their curricula for talent development classes. He holds a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics. His research interests include gifted English language learners, issues in language testing, evaluation of gifted programs, and
using Rube Goldberg with gifted learners to improve teamwork and creativity skills.

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

Rube Goldbergineering: Lessons in Teaching Engineering Design to Future Engineers Abstract

Hands-on learning experiences and interactive learning environments can be effective in teaching K-12 students. Design, in essence, is an interactive, hands-on experience. Engineering design can be taught in the classroom using innovative hands-on projects, such as designing and building serve to teach design, promote creativity, and provide opportunities for hands-on problem solving, in addition to giving students experience working in cooperative teams. In turn, these experiences could encourage students to consider future careers in engineering and science.

This paper explores findings from data collected during the authors’ recent experience teaching a group of fifteen 4th – 6th grade students enrolled in a 6-week Saturday talent development program to design and build Rube Goldberg machines. The purpose of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of teaching an engineering design to students enrolled in a talent development program, the use of teamwork and its influence in the design process, and how a design process aligns with the way kids approach design.

A scaffolded engineering design process was used to guide teams of 3-4 students through the project. Students took on predefined roles in order to promote teamwork. Most of the data collected were a regular part of the work subjects produced for the class, which included written descriptions of the designs, posters that include drawings of their designs, and photographs and video of the machines constructed. Additionally, the investigators maintained journals during the class, and evaluations were used to measure the students’ overall perceptions of the class. A grounded theory approach was used to determine both aspects of the course that worked well and areas for improvement, in addition to surprises encountered along the way. Using this approach allowed our conclusions to inductively emerge from the data.

In this paper, we will discuss the educational implications of the study. Results indicate that these students have difficulty working in teams, applying a design process, and demonstrating sufficient maturity to focus and manage their own schedule toward an abstract goal. This project is important for teachers considering implementation of a hands-on project like this in a middle school environment, in engineering and science talent development programs, and for professors interested in design experiences that their future students might have.


The engineers of tomorrow are the children of today. One way to potentially make this vision a reality is to inspire and expose young students to engaging hands-on learning experiences that foster positive conceptions of engineering at a young age. Engineering design projects are one way to achieve this goal, since design is hands-on and involves creativity and problem solving. Additionally, engineering design projects can be done in teams to promote teamwork and interpersonal communication skills in the classroom.

Jordan, S. S., & Pereira, N. (2009, June), Rube Goldbergineering: Lessons In Teaching Engineering Design To Future Engineers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5687

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