Co-creating Rube Goldberg Machines

The first Rube Goldberg Machine workshop, November 2018

Kids Invent Stuff set out to make the largest co-invented Rube Goldberg Machine and it was epic!

We loved being part of the project team. While Ruth, Shawn and the build team tackled the big machine, Bright Box Makerspace worked with 60 school children to build machines of our own. Over the course of the day we challenged the kiddos to start small, fail often and aim for huge.

They did not disappoint. In the morning, children worked in teams of 3 or 4 to build one or two chain reactions. After coming back from lunch, the children took time to learn from each other and share their progress so far. Then the real challenge came - combining the work of 60 children into 2 massive Rube Goldberg Machines. The kiddos work impressed us just as much as Ruth and Shawn’s.

What we learned:

  1. It’s better to start the kids with limited resources. We gave them access to everything. Not only was it overwhelming and distracting, it meant the creativity was limited to objects that felt familiar. Now we limit resources and introduced a trading table. Everyone loves bartering for the slinky!

  2. Grownups need time outs. As the day moved on, chaperones grew nervous that their children wouldn’t succeed. One adult even said that they didn’t want to take home crying children. The adults were telling children what to do and how. The children missed out on learning opportunities because they were not given the space to fail. Laying out our intentions for the adults in future workshops will prevent ‘grownup-splaing.’

  3. More is better - we loved having 60 kids being chaotic in one space! We’ve always been nervous about the safety of that many children running loose. With the right atmosphere co-created and decided by the children at the beginning set us up for mutual respect for the rest of the day. We started the day asking the children to tell us what they expect and how they think they should behave - that’s it, guidelines made by the community and a lovely way to create self-agency.

  4. Grownups need to play, too. We think teams working in organisation benefit the most from this workshop. Us adults don’t get to flex those problem-solving and imagination muscles in our day to day jobs. The grown ups at CMS loved playing and building a machine over the course of the evening. We even had to enforce a ‘no working on your machine during tea time’ rule.