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A Day in the Life with Common Simple Machines

By Crystal Jeter
Product Developer

Simple Machine

You elementary- to middle-school teachers often cover the topic of simple machines with themes ranging in complexity from general identification of machine type to calculating mechanical advantage. Below are suggested projects or activities that can help you teach simple machines to students at various grade levels.

  • Since students rarely realize how many common objects are actually made of simple machines, instruct them to identify common simple machines. You might have students identify all simple machines they:
    • Use in 1 day
    • Find in specific rooms in their homes
    • Need in an activity (for example, recreational activities—sports, cooking, art, etc.)
    • Find around their homes and/or school, and then have them place those machines by type on a student-created list of machine types (e.g., levers)
    Challenge students to find as many machines as possible, take photos or draw pictures of them, then identify the simple machines present. You can have more advanced or upper-level students explain how the simple machine makes a task easier. They can then present their findings to the class using mini-posters, computer presentations, videos, or other media. Also, task the more advanced students with identifying compound machines and the simple machines that comprise them. Students should explain how the combined simple machines work together to accomplish a task more easily.
  • Have students think about the simple machines already present in a kitchen, playground, garage, toolshed, etc. Then have students design a playground, set of tools for a toolbox, or a set of kitchen tools that use simple and/or complex machines. Students should describe the uses for all their machines as well as which simple machines are being used.
  • Assign students to design a new compound machine that can complete a task they specify. Students can draw, sculpt, or describe their creations. You can challenge students to incorporate into their design as many simple machines as they can.
  • Have students create or design their own Rube Goldberg machine made of simple and compound machines. Students can either create their machines or simply draw a schematic of the machine. Instruct students to label the simple machines used in the device. Students can work in groups or individually. You can assign the number of machines they must use or challenge them to design a compound machine using the most simple machines possible.
  • Assign students laboratory activities such as in the Carolina™ Introduction to Simple Machines Kit or the Carolina™ Work and Mechanical Advantage Kit. Both kits guide students through understanding simple machines and why those machines are useful.

No matter which activities you use to teach students about simple machines, we hope these suggestions help you, and them, have fun while learning.