Week Sixty-Eight: Engineering Mystery Bags and Rube Goldberg Machines


December 11, 2017 by WittyLibrarian

machineProgram Title: Engineering Mystery Bags and Rube Goldberg Machines

Target Age Range: Tweens, Grades 4-6

Program Length: 90 Minutes

Brief Description: Make a pom pom launcher and a marble run using only the supplies in a mystery bag. Afterwards, use your engineering skills to make a Rube Goldberg machine.



Paper bags


Cardboard Tube

Large Index Cards

Large popsicle sticks

Paper clips

Masking tape


Regular Popsicle sticks

Rubber bands



A variety of miscellaneous items to use in a Rube Goldberg machine (books, crates, cups, balls, whatever looks fun)

Note: As this is a building challenge program, you can switch out the supplies offered in each bag for supplies you have more readily at hand. The object can be the same, but the base supplies can change. Change it up and see what fun happens!

Photos for this blog post are from our second pass on this program, where we used random supplies to fill the bags and gave the instructions of “make something that moves.”

Cost: $-$$

Advanced Preparation:

Print out instructions, and bag items for each challenge together.

Program Outline:

  1. Introduction and explanation of program
  2. First Blind-bag challenge
  3. Second Blind-bag challenge
  4. Explanation of Rube Goldburg machines, and supplemental videos (see resources for selection choices)
  5. Free build Rube Goldburg machines
  6. End of program.






Instruction handouts.

Resources Used:

Childhood101.com’s Create an Engineering Mystery Bag Challenge for Kids,

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass – Rube Goldberg Machine – Official Video

Oviham’s Pop a Balloon – Rube Goldberg Machine Video

GameTommy’s Small Rube Goldberg Machines Video

dimitri7777’s Rube Goldberg Ideas Video

Nathan Ong’s AP Physics C’s Rube Goldberg Machine 2014

Brainpowerboy.com’s Play and Learn with Rube Goldberg Machines

Teachengineering.org’s Lesson: Rube Goldberg and the Meaning of Machines

What we would do differently: This program ran fairly smoothly, and we experienced no major trouble. We would just advise to be extra diligent in watching the kids as they assemble their various projects. During the Rube Goldberg portion of the program, one participant decided to modify her pom pom launcher into a marble launcher. It was a very clever design, but one that ran the risk of harming another participant (using the force of a rubber band to propel a marble through a tube like a projectile). We praised her design, but declined letting her test it for safety reasons.

Adaption for older/younger audience: This is a great program for all ages. For younger kids, perhaps in grades 1-3rd, we would suggest focusing only on the pom pom launcher, and adding increased interest and challenge by gradually introducing new materials to build launchers with. For teens, either of the mystery bags would be fine, but introducing more elaborate materials would add an increased interest and challenge. Also with the teens, more time spent on group builds of Rube Goldberg machines would make for a full program. This program would also be great for a family science program, with families working together to build both a pom pom launcher and a marble launcher.Snowman

One thought on “Week Sixty-Eight: Engineering Mystery Bags and Rube Goldberg Machines

  1. Renee says:

    I love this STEM activity. I am trying to incorporate more STEM into my library programming and this post has given me some great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

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