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Lean, Mean, Simple Machines

Facilitators: Connie Coon, Katie Houston, and Miriam Russell


Teacher Directed:

This module offered students experiences in realizing the importance and uses of simple machines in our daily lives. Students viewed examples of simple machines, documented simple machines on our campus, explored common products that utilize simple machines, experimented with combining reactions of simple machines, and created simple machine inventions. In concluding the module, students worked together to invent a Rube Goldberg style invention to accomplish a given task that demonstrated an understanding of the uses of multiple simple machines.


Student directed:

Come and explore the complexity of simple machines in our daily lives! Join us as we discover simple machines and their uses all around us. We’ll explore toys and common products that use simple machines to entertain us or make our lives easier. Engineering minds will thrive on experimenting with and combining reactions of simple machines. Express your creative spirit by designing and making a Rube Goldberg style invention to accomplish a given task that will demonstrate your understanding of simple machines.


Guiding Questions

How do you choose the most appropriate simple machine(s) to achieve a given task?

What are some products that involve the use of simple machines?

How do simple and complex machines impact daily living and careers?



Simple Machines (Introduction)

The workshop began by brainstorming ideas about simple machines, where they were found, and what they do.  After brainstorming, pictures of various simple machines were presented.  A definition and the work of each were discussed.  Participants were shown a video of the Flintstones and tried to identify the simple machines used in the clip.  After being introduced to simple machines, the students had the opportunity to follow up by listing simple machines used in their everyday activities. 


Simple Machine Scavenger Hunt

After a knowledge base had been established for simple machines, students were encouraged to develop an example board to demonstrate common uses of student selected simple machines. In small groups a digital camera was utilized to take photos of simple machines that were located in a specified area on the WCU campus. A note taker was selected within each group to take notes that identified the simple machine, the work it was doing, and how it made the task easier to accomplish. After a specified amount of time, groups returned to select five photos from their collection to be printed. The notes taken during the experience were used to prepare a brief description for each photo using MS Word. Descriptions were printed, and each group assembled a matte board with the photos and brief descriptions. Completed boards were presented and displayed. 


Cartoon Complex Machines

 Several pictures of Rube Goldberg’s elaborate cartoon drawings that show several simple machines put together to form a complex machine to accomplish mundane and sometimes silly tasks were viewed. The teacher showed several pictures on the Promethean board of Goldberg’s cartoons involving machines. Several laminated pictures were also passed around the room for students to view. Student sketched a Goldberg-like machine.


Marble Motion       

Students were divided into small groups to create a track that will transport a marble the longest distance possible while not allowing the marble to touch the surface of the table.


Reverse Engineering

Through this experience, the concept of how the technique of reverse engineering was used to improve technology by taking machines apart, understanding how they work, and suggesting and developing improvements to the machines. Participants were invited to take apart the machine to look at the inner mechanisms. Students chose to create a new and improved diagram of the actual machine or make a list of improvements that could make the machine more efficient or user-friendly.


Fix This House!

Students were 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, tools will be needed. 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. The goal is for students to pick five tasks they are going to do, and describe how they will do the task, including the tools they will use. Participants were encouraged to write a paragraph or draw a picture to describe five different simple machines they would use and an explanation of how these machines work.


Culminating Experience: Candle Extinguisher

Students were given the goal of creating a complex machine that would extinguish a candle flame. The machine must include a minimum of three chain reactions and three of the following simple machines.


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