Grades 6 -10

Physical Science

Simple Machines


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All material is my personal opinion, and not that of any other organization. Copyright 2001. Permission is granted for individual teacher use. All rights reserved.

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 Simple Machines

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.)

Web Resources:

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.

How Things Work: Use the Topical Index to find answers about machines.

EdHeads: 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.

Automatic Back ScratcherAutomatic Back Scratcher

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, Inc.

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.

Web Resources:

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest

An Outstanding Example of a machine.

A College 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:

  • screw-eyes
  • screws
  • small scraps of wood
  • nails
  • wire
  • nylon fishing line
  • wheels of various sizes (jar lids, CD's, discs of any size)
  • glue

Web Resources

Mousetrap Car Contest

MESA's Senior High School Mousetrap Car Contest Rules




All material on this site is the personal opinion of the author(s) and not that of any organization. Copyright 1997 and 1998.

Send your feedback to Anthony Cody