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 required.
2021 Challenge Task: Driving Change Through Transportation
2020 Challenge Task: A Mission to Mars!
The 2020 4-H Engineering Design Challenge was to design and build a Rube Goldberg-type of machine that landed a spaceship on Mars and collected a sample from the surface. It was an out of this world experience for all who participated!
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 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: If we have more questions, whom should we contact?
Eight Practices of Science and Engineering from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
Members of the Minnesota 4-H State STEM team developed this curriculum to support coaches with practical strategies to teach the engineering design process, the eight engineering practices, and 21st Century skills through an experiential process.
Judge interview: Project engineer and challenge judge Teresa Burgess explains what she looks for when interviewing a team.
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
Are you curious about space exploration and the people who make it happen? 4-H hosted exclusive conversations with engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who work on the Mars Rover program. Learn more about engineering, careers in space exploration and the Mars Rovers!
On April 20, we hosted an exclusive conversation with Dr. Farah Alibay who is a flight system engineer at NASA. Learn about the education and career path of Dr. Alibay and gain some insight into the daily life at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dr. Alibay has worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the past six years. Her primary projects have been the InSight Mars Lander and its companion mission: the Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats. She has undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Cambridge and a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
On April 28, we hosted an exclusive conversation with Hallie Abarca, an operations and software engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Learn about the education and career path of Hallie and get some insight into her work as a Mars Rover Driver and processing the images Rovers sent back to Earth.
Hallie has worked at the NASA JPL for the past eight years. She is currently working on the development and testing of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and is the Image Processing Team Lead for the InSight Lander. She graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration.
On May 7, we hosted an exclusive conversation with Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars-2020 rover.
His team works with anything that can impact the rover's ability to drive, including tires and suspension, autonomous navigation, machine vision, attitude determination and ground penetrating radar. Rich has worked at JPL nearly 13-years. He grew up in Illinois and studied at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.