Ideas and Resources
Rather than a traditional lesson
plan, this page is a collection of ideas and resources to bring
the topic of simple machines alive for our students. If you have
additional ideas or suggestions, please send them along.
Project #1: Fix This House!
Students are introduced to a scenario;
a ramshackle house is in need of repair. The roof leaks, the
refrigerator is broken, it needs paint, etc. To fix the home,
the students will need to use tools. Many tools are simple machines.
A screwdriver, for example, is a lever, as is a refrigerator
dolly. The dolly might be wheeled up a ramp, which is an inclined
plane. A pulley might be used to raise roofing shingles to the
roof. Students are to pick five tasks they are going to do, and
describe how they will do the task, including the tools they
will use. Students must describe five different simple machines
they will use, and explain how these machines work. They can
write a report or, if they prefer, design a poster showing the
five machines in use, with paragraph-long explanations.
(By the way, a humorous lesson on
a related theme can be found in the Bricklayer's
Lesson in Physics.)
Work is Simple with Simple Machines: Outstanding site: offers lesson objectives,
activities, and resources.
InQuiry Almanack -- Spotlighting Simple
Machines. This page features
concise definitions and a whole list of links for more information.
Things Work: Use the Topical
Index to find answers about machines.
Resources on Simple Machines: just
follow the simple machines link.
Project #2: Rube Goldberg Devices
Rube Goldberg was a UC Berkeley
graduate who combined his knowhow in science and artistic ability
to create a wacky comic strip in which elaborate sequences of
machines were linked to perform simple tasks.
Flame from lamp (A)
catches on curtain (B) and fire department sends stream of water
(C) through window. Dwarf (D) thinks it is raining and reaches
for umbrella (E), pulling string (F) and lifting end of platform
(G). Iron ball (H) falls and pulls string (I), causing hammer
(J) to hit plate of glass (K). Crash of glass wakes up pup (L)
and mother dog (M) rocks him to sleep in cradle (N), causing
attached wooden hand (O) to move up and down along your back.
Rube Goldberg TM &
© of Rube Goldberg,
There are a variety of challenges
and competitions online based on the idea of actually creating
working Rube Goldberg devices. In the past, I have assigned my
students to merely design the devices, and draw posters showing
how they would work.
Rube Goldberg Machine Contest
Outstanding Example of a
Course Rubric for judging a Rube Goldberg project assignment
Project #3: Mousetrap-Powered Cars
Students apply the knowledge they
have gained working with levers, pulleys, springs and other simple
machines to craft cars powered only by the spring in an ordinary
mousetrap. It is a good idea to supply the mousetraps to the
students, along with a grab bag of materials for them to use.
You are likely to find that some students have parents with well-stocked
workshops, while others live in apartments and may not even have
a hammer or screwdriver. For this reason, it is a good idea to
provide access to some of the materials needed for this project.
Commercial kits are available, but they do not promote creativity.
Some things that are useful are:
- small scraps of wood
- nylon fishing line
- wheels of various sizes (jar lids,
CD's, discs of any size)
Mousetrap Car Contest
MESA's Senior High School Mousetrap Car