A boot kicks a bowling ball, rolling it down a ramp. The ball knocks over a bowling pin, tugging a rope that swings open a birdcage. More objects bump, crash, and roll, one after another. Finally, a weight drops on a scale, lifting a hand that flips a light switch. Ta-da!
Sound complicated? That’s the point. This wacky device is a Rube Goldberg machine. That’s a contraption engineered to perform a simple task—like flipping a light switch—in a ridiculously complicated way. And every spring, thousands of students compete to build the best ones in Rube Goldberg Machine Contests, held online and at sites around the country.
At Cornerstone Christian Academy in Willoughby, Ohio, two teams of middle school students enter the online contest every year. Seventh-grader Mia Cocca is on one of them. In 2016, her team built a machine that took 45 steps to open an umbrella! They carefully designed every step. “There are so many things you have to get right,” says Mia.