Classroom Connections

simple machines

Audience volunteers are crucial in the completion of the working mousetrap.

  • Science – The lever, wheel, pulley, gear, inclined plane, and screw are the basic units used to construct all larger machines. By working with an unusual medium, students learn that these machines can be made out of anything and see uses for them that are not always obvious.
  • Math – Students are encouraged to build problem solving skills by trying to work out ways of using the basic machines to construct a working mousetrap.
  • Art – An unusual medium for art is demonstrated to open the minds of students to thinking differently. Art is combined with science as students are invited to use the balloon pieces in reconstructing the mousetrap after the show. In addition, many students create their own Rube-Goldberg mousetraps in their classrooms or at home.

Getting ready for the performance

  • Examine machines in the environment and learn to recognize the components of machines in the classroom.
  • Discuss the basic elements that complex machines are built with.
  • Discuss ways of putting simple machines together to form a more complex one.
simple machines

Combining simple machines results in more elaborate machines that can solve other jobs. Pictured here is a small conveyor belt constructed out of just a couple of balloon pulleys.

After the performance

  • Identify the things that make the balloon mousetrap different from and similar to other machines the students are familiar with.
  • Try to recreate the mousetrap on paper or with another medium.
  • Discuss other unusual machines designed to solve common problems. Some groups may wish to design a new Rube Goldberg style machine to do another simple task.
  • When the performance is geared at small groups, all of the balloon structures are left in the classroom in order for students to experiment with the unusual machines.
  • A small review booklet containing coloring pages and questions is available for the students. You canĀ download the review booklet now.


The Way Things Work by David Macaulay is highly recommended as a reference for building and understanding both simple and complex machines.