Howard County Library System
2015 Rube Goldberg Challenge: Crush and Recycle an Empty Soft Drink Can

Frequently Asked Questionsrube goldberg challenge logo

Who is Rube Goldberg and what is the Rube Goldberg Challenge?

The contest, named after the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor, and author, is offered to school teams comprised of fourth and fifth grade Howard County students. Students transform everyday materials into a wacky innovative machine that accomplishes the given task. But instead of just solving the problem, students have to make the solution as complicated and as convoluted as possible.

What is the benefit of participating in the Rube Goldberg Challenge?
By creating the machine, students incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts. Simple machine classes are taught at Howard County Library System branches during the school year.

Who can participate?
Howard County fourth and fifth grade students who attend a school that has a Teacher Advisor and is registered to take part in the challenge. School registration is voluntary. Interested teachers must submit an Intent to Participate Form.

If you are a teacher from a private or home school association and are interested in participating, please contact Kelli Shimabukuro at 410.313.7763 or

How do you participate?
School teams must complete a task which changes annually. Teams will incorporate the use of a minimum of three different simple machines with the option of using all simple machines. Students will record their invention performing the task, and document in writing how they used science, technology, engineering, and math in developing their machine. Teams must submit the video and written document to be judged. Winners' videos will be linked from HCLS' web site.

Why isn't my school participating?
Participation in the challenge is not mandatory. It is each Howard County school’s decision whether or not to participate.

What is the responsibility of a Teacher Advisor?
The Teacher Advisor instructs students on how simple machines work, approve the team’s plan, is present when the machine is being built, and is present when the team videos the machine completing the task. Teacher Advisors will be given the Rules and Regulations to follow.

Can a parent be a Teacher Advisor?
HCPSS and private school teachers are the only teacher advisors for public and private schools. Home school students must work in a team consisting of other fourth and fifth grade students led by a Teacher Advisor (responsible adult educator). This is to ensure that the students are contributing to and creating the machine and to monitor safety.

Can parents assist?
Parents may assist Teacher Advisors at the school. They should contact their school's Teacher Advisor to see if assistance is needed.

How many teams may participate?
All teams from participating schools that register between October 21 and November 1, 2013 may participate.

How do I register?
Click on and submit the INTENT TO PARTICIPATE form by November 21, 2014.  Videos must be uploaded to the HCLS Rube Goldberg Challenge Channel (available December 2014).
Email documentation to :

What is the deadline for submitting the videos and documentation?
All videos and documentation must be submitted by 5 pm on April 24, 2015.

What if my school isn’t participating? Is there anything else I can do?
Howard County Library System may offer simple machine classes for children during the year.  Please check our class schedule for dates and times.

Who wins?
There will be one winner and one honorable mention in each of the following four categories (total of ten winning teams):
  • Most Green – The winning entry will incorporate the most everyday recycled/reused materials and items. Include a list of recyclable materials in your documentation. Refer to Howard County's Recycling Guide for County Collections.
  • Most Scientific – The winning entry will most effectively communicate in writing how their simple machines function and connect to STEM.
  • Most Humorous – The winning entry will demonstrate the witty use of non-traditional items sequenced to incorporate the element of surprise.
  • Most Complex – The winning entry will incorporate a minimum of eight steps and be judged on the complexity of the design (e.g., number of steps, variety of machines).
  • New Category (TBA)

In addition, HCLS created a separate category to recognize the hard work of all students who created machines and submitted videos. All submitted videos will be eligible for the Community Favorite Award. Videos will be posted online for community viewing. Viewers will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite “machine.” The winning entry will be determined by the most votes received.

Are there prizes?
Winning teams will be awarded trophies and certificates. All participants and their families will be invited to attend the celebration event on May 12, 2015 at River Hill High School.

Check back to this page for periodic updates
Rube Goldberg Challenge