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Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game
Pros: Building convoluted contraptions based on scientific principles is fun, challenging, and empowering.
Cons: Students don't directly learn about science concepts, and hints are sometimes hard to figure out.
Bottom Line: Lighthearted puzzles boost critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
This game gives teachers a great opportunity to hold a class-wide contest during a unit about forces and motion. Students can't create individual accounts, so sharing in the classroom is a must. Divide students into small groups and have them work together to solve some of the puzzles. Students can share their results with their classmates to find out who earned the most golden prunes.
Follow up with a class discussion about simple and compound machines, pointing out how forces and motion are used by the contraptions that students built. Then challenge groups to design their own contraptions using silly tools to accomplish a simple task. Encourage students to be creative but also to apply concepts of forces and motion in their designs. You can also visit the Rube Goldberg website to find out about the official Rube Goldberg machine contest, and access the educational extension activities within the app. Since multiple languages are included in the app settings, this is a good game for some English language learners.
Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game is available as an app or on the web, and offers students 18 contraption-building puzzles to solve, with each solution unlocking the next puzzle. The first puzzle is similar to a tutorial, tasking students to build a combination alarm clock and juice squeezer as a "simple way to get fresh orange juice upon awakening." Students tap through a set of written instructions and explanations and have an opportunity to practice using different features, such as panning the room and zooming in and out. Students can also practice tapping and dragging tools from the box and using strings to start building the contraption. Then the real challenge begins as students finish on their own. They can stop as often as they like to test their contraptions, which helps them visualize their progress and assess what still needs work.
Upon completion of each puzzle, students can watch their contraptions in action to see how they work. And throughout the game, they earn fun awards such as "First Time Using String" and "One Level with One Golden Prune." Up to three golden prunes are awarded per puzzle. The more tools players use, the more prunes they earn. Once a puzzle is solved using all the tools, the actual Rube Goldberg cartoon version is saved as a reward. However, different users can solve the puzzles over and over, which makes sharing a little easier. Teachers can reset the entire game, allowing students to start fresh and earn all their own achievements. There is also an Educators tab, which can be accessed by tapping the lightbulb on the home screen. This section provides useful tips for integrating the app into classroom instruction. The iOS version includes language translations to Spanish and German. The desktop versions include translations to Spanish, German, French, and Italian.
To solve the puzzles, students use problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to devise novel contraption designs that complete a specific task. Each puzzle has more than one solution, but students earn the greatest reward (golden prunes!) for using all the available tools. With the unlimited option to test their contraptions at any time, students learn a valuable lesson about the importance of trial and error in science.
Once students successfully build a contraption that completes a given task, they earn their golden prunes and the next puzzle is unlocked. Because the puzzles are challenging, completing them gives students a strong sense of accomplishment. However, hints are abstract, and younger students may have a hard time understanding them. An option to show partial solutions or more concrete hints would help struggling players, but the extension activities inside the app can provide a more solid foundation before students begin playing.