Start Designing and Engineering with Contraption Maker in One Easy Lesson

September 10th, 2015 by Deborah Fike

Over the past year of giving away Contraption Maker to teachers for free, we’ve met a lot of teachers who have been using The Incredible Machine as part of their curriculum for the past few decades.   Last week, I was lucky enough to be contacted by one such teacher, Mr. Carl Hader, the Technology & Engineering Department Head of Grafton High School.  He had been using a CD-ROM version of The Incredible Machine for several years and was excited to hear the game had been updated with Contraption Maker.  He shared the following 20-point assignment with us that you can use to quickly introduce designing and engineering concepts to middle school or high school students:

Get Familiar with the Contraption Maker (Worth 8 pts)

Making Fire: The First Tutorial on Lighting the Candle

Making Fire: The First Tutorial on Lighting the Candle

In order to use Contraption Maker, kids need to understand how to use the different parts in the game.  Have students go through the first set of tutorials using the following steps:

  1. Open Contraption Maker.
  2. Click the orange “Play” button on the main screen.
  3. Click the “Welcome to Contraption Maker” tutorial to start going through them.
  4. Have students complete each tutorial puzzle, checking them off a worksheet as they go.  They receive 1/2 point for each tutorial they check off.

You can have students go through as many tutorial puzzles as you think they need.  The original lesson called for students to complete 16 tutorial puzzles, making this section of the assignment worth 8 points.  You may adjust this number so that students can become familiar with enough parts in the game to complete the next part of the lesson.

Build a Contraption (Worth 10 pts)

Once students have grasped the general idea of how parts work, they can complete a contraption, worth 10 points.  To open up make mode, go back to the main menu and click the blue “Make” button.  Then give the kids a contraption goal to complete, such as this one:

  1. Use at least 10 parts to light a candle.
  2. Keep the candle lit for 3 seconds.
  3. Then put out the flame on the candle.

I fiddled around with this assignment myself and got it to work.  I don’t want to give any solutions away in case you want to use this in class, but here are some hints on how it might work though:

Intro Lesson Contraption with Candle

Testing out Parts in Make Mode

Wrap-Up (Worth 2 pts)

The last two points of the intro lesson can be saved for a variety of things.  You could have students write a paragraph on how they completed the assignment.  You could have them share their contraptions with a fellow student and walk them through it.  You could tie it into your routine class structure, such as giving students points for properly logging off their computers.

Beyond the First Lesson

I love the simplicity of this lesson.  It’s easy to see how kids could sit down and accomplish most of this lesson in one sitting, and it can be adapted for a variety of classes, from technology classes to design to even language arts if you enhanced the written follow-up section of the lesson.

This lesson is also a great lead-in to a lesson submitted by teachers at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where students create even more complicated Rube Goldberg machines.

For a full list of our available lesson plans (created for teachers, by teachers), check out our curriculum page.  And if you have a great Contraption Maker lesson plan, please share it with us ( so we can continue building our fantastic library of lesson ideas.

-Deborah Fike


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