Unplugged Activity: Overly Complicated Machine

An Overly Complicated Machine consists of several devices that are linked together to perform an simple action in a complicated way. For the purposes of this lesson, each device can be seen as an event. One event or device will cause the next event to happen. Therefore, the events are linked or chained together.

Search the web for more information about the famous inventor and artist Rube Goldberg, who created outlandish and complicated machines to perform simple tasks.

Explain to the class that today they will be planning an Overly Complicated Machine. Show a few videos to give students an idea of what that is.

Explain that you are talking about this because it will help students learn about events in coding. When an event happens in coding, the code reacts and performs the effect the programmer requested. For example, when someone clicks a link on the internet, they might be sent to a webpage (you might show this as you describe it). You can use some of the sample code from an activity in this lesson to show an event and the resulting effect.

Events happen in life, too. When you flip a light switch, the lights go on or off. You can provide more real-life examples so students really get the concept. The example complicated machine design below only has 5 steps. We will want to make machines that have 10 or more events.

complicated machine

An Overly Complicated Machine is a series of events. The class will come up with an Overly Complicated Machine with 10 events. At the end, the machine will accomplish a final goal.

As a class, brainstorm some common household tasks, explaining that together you are thinking of what you want the machine to do. What is the final goal of running this machine?

Some household task examples might be doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or taking out the trash. Alternatively, you could look for Rube Goldberg inspired contests for ideas.

There are endless possibilities here, but each group should end the brainstorming session with a goal for their machine to accomplish.

Next, tell the students that they must use at least 10 different devices to get their machine to accomplish their goal. Ten is an adjustable number. Add or subtract devices to make the activity longer or shorter.

Presentation Ideas

There are many ways in which you can have students present their work. Use any or all of these ideas in combination to have your teams show their final ideas.

  1. Students use comic book-style boxes where each box shows one device interacting with the next device.
  2. Students create written steps.
  3. Students act out their final machine.
  4. Although this is a lot of work, you could bring in items for students to physically make a real machine.

Again, the options are limitless, so be creative.

Finally, it is important to reiterate the language you want students to use when they begin to code. Try to use the word “event” whenever possible to get them familiar with that word and the concept in coding. The code listens for events and then performs actions the programmer programs into it.