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MIS Simple Machines Workshop

Grades: 4 & 5

Class Duration: 120 minutes

Key learning Values: This workshop was designed to explore science "essentials"— ideas and thinking tools necessary for science learning.  Specifically, the subject of the workshop was “Simple Machines”.

simple machine is a tool or device that makes lifting and moving heavy objects easier through mechanical advantage (also called leverage) to multiply work effort. 

The six classical simple machines we discussed and experimented with are:

  • The Lever and Fulcrum (Balance)
  • The Inclined plane
  • The Screw
  • The Wedge
  • The Wheel and axle
  • The Pulley

Key terms we explored include:

  • Force: an interaction that changes the motion of an object.
  • Newton: the force needed to accelerate a one kg object at the rate of 1m per second2.
  • Joule:  the energy spent to accelerate a 1kg object at 1 m per second2 through a distance of 1m.
  • Work: applying force and expending energy to move an object.
  • Slope: the ratio of vertical to horizontal change of a line (in this case an inclined plane).

The students calculated the change in slope and thereby the change in force needed to do work by dividing the change in elevation (rise) over various distances (run).

We examined simple machines in everyday life: scissors, ramps, doors, window blinds, elevators, flag poles, cranes, bicycles, stairs, bottle openers, balances, etc.

During each experiment, students applied a force meter to measure the change of force needed to do work when changing the distance traveled.  We learned that by increasing distance, we can decrease the force needed; or conversely by increasing the force applied, we can shorten the distance.