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
Join the challenge today!
Help us drive change by participating in this year's challenge. Whether it’s getting food to people in need or finding a better way for people to get from one place to another, we want to hear about your ideas. Join the challenge and make a difference today!
There are three parts to getting involved:
- Sign-up and start or join a team.
- Choose an issue connected to transportation you want to solve.
- Create an EDC machine and share your story.
- Team sign-up information - learn how to sign-up to participate.
- General challenge information - learn what the challenge is all about.
- Challenge task specifics - learn about the task your machine will complete.
- Video submission guidelines - submit a video of your machine for the 2021 virtual state showcase.
- Video evaluation form - judging form for submitting videos.
A county-based team is made up of three or more youth from separate households who will meet in-person, virtually or a combination of both to participate in the challenge.
- County team basics
- Machine specifications - Level 1
- Machine specifications - Level 2
- Level 2 resource guide
A family-based team is made up of one or more youth and a parent/guardian in the same household OR a related adult (e.g., grandparent) that youth can connect with via technology.
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?
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.
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
- Example journal questions (Acoma Can Crushers from McLeod County)
- Example journal questions (Workshop Wonders from Le Sueur County)
Previous challenge photos
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.
Kim Thompson, executive administrative specialist, 612-624-7774, firstname.lastname@example.org
All other questions
Michael Compton, STEM director, 712-330-2431, email@example.com