In the 4-H Engineering Design Challenge, youth develop critical thinking, creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills, and have fun at the same time! Each year, teams of youth in grades 3 and up and family teams solve a theme-based engineering challenge.
While working with caring adults, teams apply engineering principles to plan and build a machine that completes a task. Minnesota 4-H supports volunteer coaches every step of the way with curriculum, project ideas and learning activities. No expertise is required.
2023 state showcase: Take your best shot and celebrate!
The Minnesota 4-H Engineering Design Challenge Showcase was held in person on Monday, Aug. 7, at St. Cloud State University. A virtual state showcase was held on Monday, Aug. 14.
Youth in teams from across the state showcased the machines they created that achieve the goal of "taking your best shot" and "celebrating."
Engineering was used to achieve this goal while celebrating 10 years of Engineering Design Challenges!
Information and resources
- 2023 state showcase registration - learn how to sign-up to participate.
- General challenge information - learn what the challenge is all about.
- Challenge task, story, presentations and judging information - learn about the task your machine will complete.
- Complete Challenge Handbook - all the information needed to participate in the challenge found in one document for both county and family teams.
- 2023 state in-person showcase event information
- 2023 state virtual showcase event information
- Video submission guidelines - only required for teams participating in the state virtual showcase event on Monday, Aug. 14.
Q: What is a step?
A: A step in the machine is a transfer of energy from one action to another action; identical transfers of energy in succession should be counted as one step.
Example: A sequence of dominos hitting each other counts as one step. Counting 100 dominoes as 100 steps is repetitive and not in the spirit of the Engineering Design Challenge.
Q: What do we mean by “machine”?
A: A Rube Goldberg™ machine is an overly complex contraption that does a simple task and uses everyday items in a fun or amusing way. The machine uses a series of chain-reaction steps that culminate in accomplishing a task.
Q: What does human intervention mean?
A: Once the first step in your machine takes place (e.g., someone pushes a ball onto a ramp), the machine should function all the way to the end without a person touching it. However, sometimes the machine may fail to reach the last steps to accomplish the task. If a machine fails before it completes the task, it may be necessary for a person to start it again from the point where it failed. That is a human intervention.
Q: Can I enter a machine that has been previously built and posted online?
A: No. All entries must be new machines created for the current challenge year and theme.
Q: Does our machine have to fill the whole 6’ x 6’ x 6’ space?
A: No, your machine can be smaller than the maximum allowed dimensions; it just can’t be larger.
Q: What sources can we use for research?
A: Information gathering is a key step in the design process. Some of the information may be what you and your teammates already knew before you started to think about your machine. In that case, your source is your other teammates or maybe the class in school where you learned the information, or maybe a parent or relative or a 4-H volunteer who taught it to you.
But you probably won’t know everything before you start. The library, your teachers, the Internet, your family and your friends are all good sources for helping you figure out how to solve a problem.
Q: Can a team be made up of youth from different school grades?
A: Yes. Adult leaders should carefully consider the benefits and challenges of widely varying age/grade groups. Youth in different grades vary greatly, not only in their attention span and ability to stay on task but also in the amount and type of planning they are capable of, the guidance and recognition they require, and the types of personal development they seek.
Q: Can youth from different counties be on the same team?
A: Yes. However, the team must be affiliated with a specific county’s 4-H program. If they exhibit their design at a county fair, it will be the fair of the county they’re affiliated with.
Q: What does it mean to take your best shot?
A: Taking your best shot means you have identified a target or goal and then taken action to reach your goal or target.
Q: Can we use a target to take our best shot?
A: Yes, you can use different types of targets; however, the target may NOT have any appearance or character resembling that of a human.
Q: What does it mean to create a celebration?
A: Celebration comes in many forms. Consider what a celebration means to you. Some people may think of a celebration being characterized by flashing lights, confetti falling, cheers and applause or receiving a diploma.
Q: If we have more questions, whom should we contact?
Resources for team support
- The Engineering Design Process guides teams through the problem solving process as they create their machines. Teams will share how they used this process to complete the challenge task.
- Eight Practices of Science and Engineering from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a guide to help youth improve their skills through science and engineering practices.
- The learning guide was developed by members of the Minnesota 4-H State STEM team. This curriculum supports coaches with practical strategies to teach the engineering design process, the eight engineering practices and 21st Century skills through an experiential process.
- Team Coach/Volunteer job description lists the roles and responsibilities of any adult who serves as a volunteer team coach.
- The Engineering Simple Machines lesson plans were developed by members of the Minnesota 4-H State STEM team. These lessons help volunteers and educators teach youth about the six simple machines and how to use them to design an Engineering Design Challenge machine.
In this interview, project engineer and challenge judge Teresa Burgess explains what she looks for when interviewing a team.
Use these guidelines to help your team prepare for a conference judging experience.
Use this form to give teams feedback during a conference judging experience.
Elements and ideas you can incorporate into your own machine
The Meeker County Koronis Eager Beavers demonstrate their contraption that puts toothpaste on a toothbrush and talk about what they learned while building it.
In this series of short videos, Dr. Duct Tape explains a number of concepts that Engineering Design Challenge teams can use to design and create a machine.
Keeping a journal
Keeping a journal or engineering notebook is strongly recommended. This provides a way to record design ideas, work accomplished, problems encountered and solutions tried, materials needed, and any other aspects of designing and building your machine. Teams wishing to enter their machine for judging at county or state fairs or the state showcase event are required to keep a journal or notebook.
Here are some photocopied journal excerpts from teams that competed in a previous Engineering Design Challenge. Some parts of these examples became difficult to read/see when we photocopied them.
The following files are for printing only:
- Full journal (Miles of Smiles team from Stearns County) (PDF)
- Full journal (Can Cak Flooses team from Washington County) (PDF)
- Journal excerpts (Mechanicals team from Ramsey County) (PDF)
- Steps list (Can Cak Flooses) (PDF)
- Steps diagram (Can Cak Flooses) (PDF)
Questions to help guide journaling
Previous challenge photos
2023 state showcase: Take your best shot and celebrate!
The 2023 Minnesota 4-H Engineering Design Challenge Showcase was held on Aug. 7 and Aug. 14. Youth from across the state showcased machines they created with their teams that achieve the goal of "taking your best shot" and "celebrating."
Teams were evaluated on how well their machine met the criteria and how they identified what they learned through this project.
The following teams received special awards:
- Excellence in Teamwork Award: Golfing Go Getters (Rice County), Galaxy Dragons (North St. Louis County) and Sonny’s Gardeners (Watonwan County)
- True Grit Award: The Complicators (Mahnomen County), Dangerous Delta Dogs (Hubbard County), Carver Lights (Carver County), Roaring Thunder (Hennepin County) and Sharp Shooters (Scott County)
- Inspiration Award: St. John STEM Club (Sherburne County) and Dueling Dominos (Wright County)
- Team Innovation Awards: TimeCrafters and the Summer Crew (Chisago County) and Paws and Pals (Polk County)
- Excellence in Presentation Award: Red Rascals (Wright County), Watonwan Wizards (Watonwan County) and Valley Victors (Meeker County)
- Outstanding Journal Award: Itascaneers (Itasca County) and Green Valley Sharp Shooters (Hubbard County)
- The Best Use of Theme Award: Watonwan Wizards (Watonwan County)
- The One for All, All for One Award: Red Rascals (Wright County)
- The Fired-up Award!: St. John STEM Club (Sherburne County)
- The Most Unique Machine Award: Valley Victors (Meeker County)
- The Best Use of Recycled/Reused Items Award: Willing Workers (Wright County)
- The Spirit of Hilarious Invention Award: Sonny’s Gardeners (Watonwan County)
- Purple Ribbons: St. John STEM Club (Sherburne County), Watonwan Wizards (Watonwan County), Golfing Go Getters (Rice County) and Timecrafters and the Summer Crew (Chisago County)
Looking for a team to join?
Reach out to the 4-H local educator where you live to find out if there is a team in your area.
All other questions
Margo Bowerman, Extension educator, 218-281-8695, email@example.com