How to Teach an Engaging Simple Machines Unit

Fun and engaging simple machines unit

Simple machines seem so simple, but many students may not have access to touch, play, and envision how they work or combine to form complex machinery. To overcome this, make this unit as hands-on as possible.

According to the Next Generation Science Standards ( NGSS ), all science units should begin with phenomena. Phenomena allow students to begin to think about the topic without giving prior knowledge or information. It gives students an opportunity to learn on their own. Ideas to include phenomena in your simple machines unit could be to give students pictures of items that are and are not machines to compare and contrast.

       Now that students have an idea about simple machines, its time to connect their thinking. Now, I give students some information about simple machines through vocabulary and content area readings. 

- machine
- simple machine
- complex machine
- resistance
- effort
- fulcrum
- work
- inclined plane
- wedge
- screw
- lever
- wheel and axle
- pulley

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    This information clues students into what they are learning about. It will give them properties, characteristics, and similarities among the machines.
           To internalize their understanding of the topic, I like to incorporate sketch notes. Sketch notes allow students to access both sides of their brain to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic. Students fill in information about each simple machine and can doodle or color to allow it to cement into the other side.

    Now, its time for hands on learning. I prefer to set up hands on activities in stations and give students a day or two to rotate through. You can choose this method or one that better fits your classroom needs. Students rotate through different station activities completing the hands on portion and questions before moving on to the next.

                  Inclined plane: Determine what is easier and causes less damage to a hard boiled egg; rolling down a ramp or being dropped from the height of the top of the ramp.
    Demonstrating how an inclined plane works in a simple machine unit

                  Wedge: Analyze the structure of different paper airplanes, predict how they will fly and then test your hypothesis.

    Incorporating hands on activities to demonstrate how simple machines work

                  Screw: Wrap a piece of paper cut into the shape of a triangle around a pencil. What does it resemble? This activity will allow students to visually see how a screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a rod.

                  Lever: Students will follow instructions to create their own catapult levers. Once the lever is constructed, they will test the distance a small and large marshmallow can travel.

                  Wheel and Axle: Students will use a rolling pin, type of wheel and axle, to observe how it works.

    Hands on stations help cement knowledge about simple machines

                  Pulley: Set up different pulley systems to allow students to see how they work and how they are constructed. Low budget? Simply tape one end of a string to a pencil, wrap the string around the pencil. Tie the other end around an object and practice using your pulley to lift the item up and down. 

    When reviewing information, I love to use flipbooks. If giving a test, it provides an excellent review allowing students to summarize important parts of each topic. You can easily make your own flip book by using several pieces of paper. Layer the sheets so that they make tabs. Students will title each tab and when they lift it, they can write in the information that summarizes the example of force or law of motion.  Need something quickly? Check out a premade one here

    Summarize learning of simple machines through flipbooks

    Assess student knowledge of this topic through different project ideas. Some projects that I have used in my classroom include:

    -       Create a park project: Students will use their knowledge of the inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, wheel and axle, and pulley to design a park that incorporates all six. Students provide an explanation of how each is related to simple machines.

    -       STEM projects: Students integrate their inquiry learning skills along with their knowledge of simple machines to create  

    Teaching about simple machines can be so much fun with all the hands on elements. I hope these ideas helped you spark engagement in your own classroom. If you are interested in the unit of premade activities, readings, and projects, click here

    Teaching your grade 5, 6, 7 students about simple machines

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