Ashbrook Independent School’s Rube Goldberg Machine Challenge

Check out the Corvallis Gazette Times article and video on the 2022 Ashbrook Rube Goldberg Machine Challenge.




The 2022 challenge

Team Application

Official Materials and Tools List


Through the Science and Mathematics Departments at Ashbrook, students interested in chances to apply their studies have found ready opportunities in problem solving projects designed by their teachers.  

Collaborating on the creation of marble roller coasters, determining the volume of a Jack-o-Lantern after carving it, creating complex simple machines, and the Save the Elephant challenge are typical Ashbrook projects.  The enthusiasm and joy with which Ashbrook students have approached these challenges have inspired school leaders to develop the Rube Goldberg Machine Challenge.

The best known Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is the national event held annually by Theta Tau at Purdue University. In addition, the Argonne Rube Goldberg Machine Contest for High Schools is affiliated with Theta Tau’s national contest.  

The Ashbrook Rube Goldberg Machine Challenge for middle school students is affiliated with OSU. By joining forces with OSU, Ashbrook will provide an opportunity for students in grades 5-8 to compete against other students from other middle schools, judged by OSU undergraduate and graduate engineering students.

Such a contest will afford students interested in careers in engineering an opportunity to apply and synthesize their thoughts in a complex and inherently interesting problem-solving environment surrounded by like-minded peers. This higher order thinking is at the core of what it means to be an educated person, and this contest will provide a showcase for the brightest thinkers among middle school students from the greater Benton County area. 

Machine to be built will be determined by Contest Partners.

Rube Goldberg

The Rube Goldberg Machine Challenge is named after cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970), the spirit of whose work inspires the contest’s weird and engineeringly challenging machines and crazy contraptions.

For more than 50 years, Goldberg’s cartoons poked fun at machines and gadgets which he saw as overly complex. His inventions became so well known that dictionaries added “rube goldberg” to its listing, defining it as “accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition). 

Goldberg’s “inventions,” drawn for our pleasure, will work. By inventing excessively complex ways to accomplish simple tasks, he entertained us as he made fun of machines that seemed to be designed to make our lives easier. Goldberg himself claimed that the machines were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” He believed that most people preferred doing things the hard way instead of using simpler solutions.

Ashbrook’s Challenge

Ashbrook Independent School will invite other middle schools to compete in a spring term Rube Goldberg Challenge.  The machine earning the most points according to the Official Judging Scorecard, while meeting all other criteria, will win the contest.  The task for the machine to accomplish will be selected by the Contest Partners and will be revealed to registered teams during the Faculty Coach training session at OSU in January.

Participation in the contest will be at no cost to the schools invited except for the materials and tools they will need to acquire.  Acquiring these will, ideally, give each school community an opportunity to come together, mobilizing resources within and beyond campus.  

In addition, Ashbrook will provide participating schools with the competition venue, a staff of judges drawn from OSU, competition t-shirts, exposure to local business sponsors, and Faculty Coach training at OSU in January.

Awards earned by the overall winning team will include a team trophy and a plaque, engraved with the winning team’s name, to remain at Ashbrook.  The overall winning team will also be invited to participate in the next year’s competition.

Second and third place teams will also receive recognition.  In addition, trophies will be awarded to winners of the categories of Machine Complexity, Machine Creativity, and Teamwork/Presentation to the Judges.

Faculty Coaches

Faculty Coaches will help teams determine how to construct their machine to best accomplish the task assigned, provide transportation to and from Ashbrook, and supervise their team members throughout the competition.  As a Coach, the faculty member may not actively participate in the creation of the machine before or during the competition, but should be available for consultation with team members throughout their participation in the contest.  In this, the Coach should answer direct questions with direct answers and may even be a sounding board or provide a reality check. 

Coaches should also provide a “moral presence” in accordance with what is right and proper, safe, and in agreement with the given school’s mission and code of conduct;  be available during student work times; and ensure a safe and fun experience throughout the competition. Faculty Coaches may help students prepare their team’s presentation to the judges and certify that all competition rules were adhered to.  Finally, on the day of the competition, the Faculty Coach will manage the conduct of his or her team, and remind them about the importance of good behavior and sportsmanship.

Faculty Coaches will be provided with a required training session at OSU in January (PD Credits will be Awarded).  All teams must be represented by the primary Faculty Coach or an alternate.  Failure to make this meeting may disqualify a team from the competition and a replacement team will be selected from the waiting list.

Ashbrook’s Rube Goldberg Challenge Timeline

By December 17th — Teams to Register

January 2022 date TBD — Training of Faculty Coaches at OSU. On this date, information will be provided to the Coaches (including the machine to be built, packing list of materials, and a list of tools necessary for the competition).

Saturday, February 12, 2022 — Competition Date, Ashbrook Independent School Gymnasium (4045 SW Research Way, Corvallis, OR 97333)

  • 9:15am-10:00am, Arrival and Registration
  • 10:00am-1:00pm, Building/Dry Runs

(teams should schedule their own breaks according to need)

  • 1:00pm-1:45pm, Lunch in various locations.  Judges to do safety and official parts walkthrough.
  • 2:00pm-4:00pm, Judging of Machines according to random judging order (see judging order in registration packet).  All teams are encouraged to watch the judging of the machines.  Spectators are allowed to leave the bleachers and walk on the competition floor.
  • 4:00pm-4:30, Awards presentation
  • 4:30-5:00, Teams remove machines, discard materials into the trash barrels, and bring barrels to the truck outside the gym doors.  Rube materials to be recycled should be placed in the appropriate bins (not the water bottle recycling bins, which will also be present). 
Ashbrook’s Rube Goldberg Challenge Rules

Violation of any rules may result in forfeiture of parts or tools, penalty, or disqualification.

The number of members on a team will be 6 students in grades 5-8. An entering school must include at least one person from each grade at the school within the 5th through 8th grade range (for example, a 5th-8th grade school must include at least one 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grader; and a 6th-8th grade school must include at least one 6th, 7th, and 8th grader).  The competition is limited to 10 teams selected by the Challenge Steering Committee.  

Teams may not make use of the internet via electronic devices during the competition.  In fact, no electronic devices may be present on the competition floor.  

Teams may not receive information from any spectators that would help them to build their machines.

All participants must wear their competition t-shirts during the competition.  Team Captains and Faculty Coaches will be provided with different colored t-shirts and should wear those so they can be easily identified. 

Each team member should wear a clearly lettered name tag easily seen by the judges. 

Each team must create a machine to accomplish the stated task using approved parts and tools (see Official Materials and Tools List).

A final list of approved parts and tools needed for the competition will be included in the information delivered to each team during Coach training at OSU. No parts or tools other than those listed may be used. Parts or tools used NOT from the official list will be removed from the work area/machine and the team may be penalized. All parts and tools on this list are optional. That is, if a team decides it does not need a part or a tool, it does not need to bring it to the competition.

Each team will be provided with a 20’x20’x20’ foot area in which to construct its machine and perform for the judges.  This area will be empty except for a 6’ long table and 6 folding chairs.   

Any loose or flying objects must remain within the set boundaries of each team’s allowable work area of 20’x20’x20’.

Teams will have no access to electricity for charging purposes, so they should come with enough spare batteries for their battery powered drill. 

Teams must arrive at the competition venue with their parts fully intact, and judges will certify compliance prior to machine construction.  No pre-construction of parts you will bring to the contest is permitted: holes drilled, screws or fasteners attached, markings of any type, etc. may result in the forfeiture of the item.   

The team may bring hard copy plans, templates, and other design, construction, or presentation aids, but no electronic devices.  

The judges will introduce a mystery part or parts, on the morning of the competition, that must be incorporated into each team’s machine in an active way (not merely a static item attached to the machine).

No part of a team’s machine or any associated materials may be attached to the walls, floor, or ceiling of the competition venue in a way that damages them. 

No action of building, cutting, or drilling shall damage furniture provided at the competition venue.

One member of each team must be designated Team Captain. The Captain will lead his or her team’s presentation of the machine to the judges, including an explanation of the process of creating the machine, a detailed Rube Goldberg style illustration and detailed description of how the machine works (including each step of the process), and the outcome.  Points will be awarded for creativity. 

Each team will have a total time of 15 minutes for the presentation of its machine to the judges (recommended 5 minutes) AND the successful run of its machine (recommended 10 minutes). 

The team with the highest overall score will win the competition. Trophies will be awarded to the overall winning team and the 2nd and 3rd place teams, and to the teams earning the highest scores in each of the three judging areas: complexity of the machine, machine creativity, and the quality of teamwork/presentation to the judges. 

No team shall win more than one award. 

Each machine must be safe and subject to the approval of the judges.

To be judged, a machine must incorporate a minimum of five different steps in completing the defined task.  A “step” is defined as “a discrete action that (1) contributes to the completion of the Rube Goldberg task by (2) transferring or releasing energy.  For an action to qualify as a ‘step,’ the machine must not be able to complete the Rube Goldberg task if the action fails.  An action will not qualify as a ‘step’ if it is part of a series of side events, any one of which can fail without preventing the machine from completing the Rube Goldberg task.  No action in such a series of irrelevant side events will qualify as a step.  Also, repeating actions will not qualify as more than one step (i.e. a series of dominoes falling is a single step).

A machine must not imply profane, indecent, or lewd expressions. A machine may not display any corporate or sponsor logos.

Each team is responsible for the security of its own machine, but intentional destructive action against other machines or misbehavior of any kind will not be tolerated and will result in that team’s disqualification.  

A penalty will be assessed for any human intervention on a machine in motion (see the judging form), defined as any act necessary to adjust the machine’s performance between the start of a run and its completion.

Teams may bring or invite spectators, but all spectators must remain in designated bleachers or other viewing areas and will be permitted to view the competition from approved locations only. A team may be assessed penalty points for unsportsmanlike behavior of its spectators. 

Contestants are responsible for removing their machine and related debris immediately following the contest.