4-H Engineering Design Challenge
See this page in: English
4-H'ers learn critical thinking, creativity, innovation and problem solving, and have fun at the same time! Each year, teams of youth in grades 3 and up solve a different challenge.
Working with volunteer coaches, teams meet weekly or monthly to plan and build their machines. As they do, they learn about trial and error, design, data analysis and teamwork. In the summer, teams meet in a statewide showcase and judging event where they must successfully run their machines several times and answer judges' questions about how it works.
Minnesota 4-H supports volunteer coaches every step of the way with curriculum, project ideas and learning activities. No expertise required.
2019 Challenge Task
Help a superhero save the planet!
The 4-H Engineering Design Challenge for 2019 is to design and build a Rube Goldberg based machine that helps a superhero save the planet. The superhero must be a part of at least one step in the machine. Get some ideas!
Two ways to tackle the challenge
NEW in 2019, teams have two options:
Remove pollution from water and place that pollution in an appropriate container, OR
Identify an environmental issue or challenge that currently threatens life on the planet earth and create a two-step task for your machine that works to solve the issue or challenge.
Two age groups
Level 1 (Grades 3-8)
Level 2 (Grades 7-12)
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: Can programmable logic controllers or microcontrollers be used?
A: Yes, but their use must fit within the definition of a step. Steps that use controllers should be clearly stated in the written step list and include detailed information on how the transfer of energy is accomplished. Using controllers as a fail-safe is illegal and will result in disqualification.
Example: A ball falls onto a switch connected to a controller that turns on a motor.
- NOT ALLOWED: If the ball misses the switch but the controller still starts the motor, the controller is not transferring energy from one action to another action; it is acting as a fail- safe instead of a step and is illegal.
- ALLOWED: If the ball hits the switch and the controller starts the motor.
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. See the example judging form on page 13 for what judges will look for in the machines.
Q: Can I enter a machine that has been previously built and posted online?
A: No. All entries must be new machines created and built for entry into this competition.
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.
You might also visit a factory or an engineer to get information.
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 our team decides to showcase at the state showcase event and/or the Minnesota State Fair, but not all of our members are able to attend, is it still OK for some of us to show our machine?
A: Yes. It’s best if the whole team comes to the events. We understand some members might have started school or be on a family vacation at the time of these events. A team that demonstrates their machine at the state fair does not need to have all members present though it is highly recommended. They do need to have enough team members to transport, assemble, demonstrate, and disassemble the machine. (This can mean walking a couple of blocks from a parking lot to the 4-H building with the machine at the state fair.) As many team members as can come should come to this team event!
Q: If we decide to showcase our machine at the state fair, can we make changes to our machine, records and presentation between the time we show at our county fair and/or the state showcasing and judging event before we show at state fair?
A: Yes. The engineering design process encourages us to learn from experience and redesign to improve the creation!
Q: If we have more questions, whom should we contact?
A: You can contact Amber Greeley (firstname.lastname@example.org) for registration related questions and Michael Compton (email@example.com) for all other questions. There will also be two webinar meetings for adult volunteer team coaches; please bring your questions, comments and suggestions to those meetings.
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.
At the fair
A tip sheet for bringing your machine to the county or state fair—expect the unexpected.
Judge interview: Project engineer and challenge judge Teresa Burgess explains what she looks for when interviewing a team.
- Level 2 judging guidelines
- Level 2 judging evaluation
Judges orientation video: What the judges will be looking for and how the team will be judged.
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.
CBS Sunday Morning video about a RGM competition in Ohio for university students.
In 2015 some of the participants in the Engineering Design Challenge took part in an online Rube Goldberg camp. In this series of short videos, Dr. Duct Tape helps campers understand a number of concepts that they can use in designing and creating a contraption, à la Rube Goldberg himself.
Keeping a journal
Keeping a journal or record of design ideas, work accomplished, work left to do, problems encountered and solutions tried, materials needed, and any number of other aspects of the experience of designing and building your contraption is strongly recommended. (It is required for teams wishing to enter their machine for judging at county or state fairs or the state showcase event.) Here are some example journal excerpts from teams that competed in the 2015 Engineering Design Challenge.
(Some parts of these examples became difficult to read/see when we photocopied them.)
- 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