Engineering Challenges and Rube Goldberg Machines

Engineering challenges are the hallmark of hands-on and experiential learning at AVS. A challenge comprises of a problem or provocation and a number of constraints, such as specific materials or lack thereof. A metric (e.g., time, weight, distance) is used to determine the winning design. An example of an engineering challenge is to design

a wind dispersed seed that flies the farthest on fan-created "wind." The materials/constraints given include one bean that acts as the seed, adhesive (e.g., tape, glue), flight device/wings (e.g., piece of paper, tissue paper, thin plastic film), and scissors to shape the flight device/wings. A student’s model of a wind dispersed seed is then tested by dangling it at the center of a standing fan to simulate a seed hanging from the plan, releasing it to let it be carried by the fan's "wind," and measuring the distance the seed travels once it lands.


Every grade participates in the engineering challenges, which are proposed every month by a teacher throughout the year during monday morning meetings. Students are encouraged to design prototypes, test, and iterate their solutions over a few weeks prior to the engineering challenge presentation and winner announcement, which is held during a monday morning meeting. Through attempting repeated challenges, students learn to not fear mistakes, fail forward, take feedback, celebrate risk-taking, innovate, and become fascinated with how things work and are connected.

An annual engineering tradition at AVS is building a Rube Goldberg machine -- a contraption that uses a chain reaction to teach the concept of cause and effect. The students carefully observe the cause and effect relationship, make necessary adjustments accordingly, and continually test until the desired outcome is achieved.


This challenge also encourages students to tinker with a variety of simple machines, namely inclined planes, levers, pulleys, and wheels and axles. Building such a machine requires persistence, resilience, flexible thinking, and creative problem-solving.

Creating these contraptions in pairs instills teamwork skills, such as listening to and incorporating others’ ideas, patience, taking turns, and clearly articulating one’s own needs and ideas while meeting those of someone else.


The machines grow in complexity as students advance through each grade. In junior kindergarten through first grade, the process focuses more on exploration and less on the final product. In second through fourth grade, students undergo one to two-weeks of trial and error during the building process before presenting their final machines to parents either in person or through a video compilation.