Design Your Own Simple Machine

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SWBAT create their own simple machine using basic materials and their understanding of how each simple machine functions.

Big Idea

Engineering practices come into play for this hands-on design lesson where students create their very own example of a simple machine!


5 minutes

Teacher Tip: This lesson builds upon the previous lessons in the Simple Machine Unit. It provides students with a chance to actually construct their own simple machine from basic materials.  

This lesson allows students to apply their knowledge of simple machines and also engage in the process of engineering and design. SP8 is addressed as the students are writing down and explaining their ideas and their building process. They are also communicating verbally with one another within their small groups. You will need the following materials for this lesson: clay, string, rulers, cardboard, tape and wooden rods or dowels. 

To start this lesson, I have the kids recall information we have previously learned about simple machines.  I ask them to respond to the following prompt in their student notes sheet

For each machine listed, give an example.

  1. Wedge - has a sharp edge or a point, used to cut things...example:

  2. Lever - pushes things back and forth...example:

  3. Inclined Plane - used to get one from level to another more easily...example:

  4. Wheel and Axle - has wheels, used to move heavy things...example:

  5. Pulley - has a string and wheel, used to pull heavy things up...example:

  6. Screw - has a spiral shape, used to hold things together...example:

After 3-4 minutes, I ask students to share their examples with the class. 


35 minutes

Next the students will design their simple machine by answering questions and exploring the task and materials available for their design.

They will need to respond to the following on their notes sheet. 

Design a simple machine that…

-can move a piece of clay from one side of your table to another

-has at least 1 kind of simple machine from our list

-uses materials available in class

What simple machine will you build?

What materials do you need?

How will you build it? Write a procedure.

I have paper simple machine examples for each machine that students can reference if they need additional support.  I will simple roll some clay into a ball for each group so that they know exactly what they are moving for the task. 


10 minutes

After the initial design phase is complete, I want the students to reflect on their design.  They haven't actually built anything so far, but they have discussed and written a plan.  To reflect, they will respond to the following prompt in their notes sheet: 

Thinking about your simple machine, explain how it will do the following?

How will it move the clay from one point to another?

How does it make the job of moving the clay easier?

By answering these questions, students will be self-evaluating their design.  They will be identifying whether or not their machine completes the task it is designed to do and will explain how it will do this. Through this writing activity, they will be addressing standard SP8, communicating and evaluating information.  They are evaluating their own work and communicating the results in writing. After about 8-9 minutes, I will ask a student to share their response with the class. 


30 minutes

Now students actually build and test their machines.  They follow their initial design plans, test them, and then make revisions, if necessary.

This part of the lesson will get loud if you don't manage it.  Students are working together and not doing much writing.  Every five minutes or so, check in with the group as a whole. "Class, you have ... minutes remaining to build." And reminders about materials, supplies, and work expectations are good reminders, "Class, for those you using tape, I noticed this group...."

If students make revisions, make sure they note them in the notes sheet. 



15 minutes

Students self-evaluate by answering the following questions: 

  • Did our machine complete the task of moving the clay from one side of the table to the other?
  • Did we use materials from the class? What materials?
  • Which simple machine did you build?
  • How did it make the job easier?