#ChainReaction Contraption Workshop Guide



In this challenge, participants will work in teams to invent a complex contraption that performs a super simple task.


College/University (age 18+)
Middle School (ages 11-13)
Elementary (ages 8-10)
High School (ages 14-17)




littleBits Basics
Makerspace Workshops
General Education
Earth & Space Science
Physical Science


– Warmup (5 min): Rock, Paper, Scissors Epic Challenge
– Introduction (7 min): Agenda, Community Code, What are littleBits?
– Challenge (7 min): Introduction to Rube Goldberg, Examples + Inspiration, Rules
– Create (45 – 90 min)
– Share (15 min): Visit each machine, Upload to YouTube, Celebrate!
– Reflect (10-20 min)


– We recommend 2.5-3 hours for this workshop. If you would like to spend more time on filmmaking and editing, try doing a two part workshop – one with Bits and one for filming. If you need help adapting it, post your question on the forum!


Participants will…
– Combine a variety of simple machines with Bits to construct a more complex machine.
– Develop collaborative skills by working in small groups.
– Film a short movie using digital media tools.


From 2 to 25


– 4-5 participants per team.
– Organize desks to accommodate each team.
– Place all bits in one section of the room and all craft materials in another
– Name tags are always a good idea if participants don’t know each other.
– Make sure each at least one participant in each group has a littleBits login.


– littleBits kits (If you don’t have a Workshop Set or Pro Library, we recommend the STEAM Student Set, Gizmo’s + Gadgets Kit, or Premium Kit.)
– Heavy marbles (a must have!)
– All different sizes and weights of balls
– Different types of tape (duct tape, masking tape, etc)
– String
– Scissors
– Marble run kits
– toy race cars
– toy race car tracks
– dominos
– books
– Cardboard
– Cardboard tubes
– Other recyclables


– Camera or smartphone camera
– Computers (one per group) or smartphones with littleBits app for participants to upload the projects

WARMUP (5 min)

Be sure to welcome everyone as they come into the space and ask them to get a name tag. It always sets a good tone to play some fun music in the background.

– TIP: Don’t let them touch the Bits yet, even if you really want to. It’s much harder to regain control of the group.

Once everyone is there and ready, start the warmup. Explain that before you get started, you’re going to play a quick round of EPIC Rock, Paper, Scissors – with everyone in the game!

Here’s how it works:

– Everyone will stand up and choose a partner.
– Best 2 out of 3 Rock, Paper, Scissors wins.
– Looser sits down. 
– Winner finds another winner and battles.
– Continue until there are two left. Bring them up in front for the last battle. Include drum roll.



Tell the group what you’ll be doing so they have a clear idea of what is expected of them.

Community Code

As a group, come up with 4-5 rules that you all agree on to have a fun and productive time (e.g. be respectful, give constructive criticism, etc).

What are littleBits?

(If your group isn’t familiar with bits, start here. Otherwise, go straight to the challenge)

Take the temperature: How many of you have built circuits before? Who can tell me what a circuit is?

– Explain: LittleBits allows you to make circuits easily.
Show them the blue power. ASK what they notice about it.

Add the green output. ASK if they know what “output” means.

– Explain: Outputs do something, like light up, move, or make sound. LEDs light up, motors move, and buzzers make noise.
Insert the pink input. ASK what they think is happening in the circuit.

– Explain that there are many different types of input or sensors that let you control the world around you in different ways.

– TIP: Make an analogy to human senses (e.g. seeing, feeling, hearing)
Insert an orange wire.

– Explain that this extends the circuit.


In your small teams, you will use littleBits and other materials to create a Rube Goldberg machine.

ASK: Can anyone tell me what a Rube Goldberg machine is?

Explain that it is a complex machine that performs a very simple task through a series of chain reactions. For example, closing a book, popping a balloon, or throwing away a piece of trash.

Rube Goldberg made these popular as a way to comment on the overcomplexity of technology during his time. Now people invent them as a way to get creative and express themselves.

– TIP: Depending on your participants, you can assign teams the same challenge or write different challenges on index cards and have each team pick one.
– TIP: Include a discussion about simple machines to expand your learning goals.
– TIP: Depending on the amount of time you have, create different categories for teams to win (e.g. aesthetics, most number of transitions, covers most amount of space, etc). This will help you differentiate skill levels and interests within teams.


– Each team must have a name.
– They will have ___ time to complete it. After that time, each team will present to the class.
– They will have 3 tries to make it work.
– Once a team starts their machine, it needs to be able to run without any help.


This Too Shall Pass by OK GO

Introducing the “semi-intelligent bridge” #ChainReaction by Donald Drake

Pet Feeder #ChainReaction by Sky Shin

CREATE (45-90 min)

– Let them go forth and invent! The room should be a little chaotic and buzzing with creative conversation.
– Float around to teams and offer advice or feedback. Make sure you are asking questions and not just giving answers.
– Let teams know when there are 30, 15, 5, and 2 minutes left.

SHARE (15 min)

– Tell everyone to put down their materials.
– Celebrate the work they’ve done before they begin sharing. Give them a huge round of applause for their collaboration, creativity, tenacity, etc (whatever you noticed them doing well).
– Explain that the whole class will move around to each team’s machine. Everyone should move QUIETLY and CAREFULLY so as not to bump or trigger a machine accidentally.
– Assign one person from each team to document their machine working or have another facilitator capture it in action.
– Have each group briefly explain what they wanted to accomplish, then start their machine.
– Move on until all teams have gone.
– Give everyone another round of applause.

REFLECT (10-20 min)

This is one of the most important parts of the workshop, so be sure to save time for it. Below are two possible activities depending on your group.

Reflection Questions

– What did they enjoy the most?
– What was the most challenging?
– If you could give one piece of advice to another team who hasn’t done this, what would it be?
– Define the word failure and give at least one example from this workshop.

Activity Option 1: Post-its

Choose two questions. Have each participant write one item per post-it. As each participant shares, group them on a board where everyone can see. Once they are all up, look for patterns as a large group.

Activity Option 2:

Have individual participants free write silently for 5 minutes on 2-3 questions, then share in their teams or small mixed groups. Have one participant share major themes to the larger group.

Upload to YouTube (5 min)

Once participants have completed their films, upload them to YouTube, then share them on the littleBits Invent Page using the #ChainReaction hashtag.