Sunday, March 15, 2015

Simple Machines and Force: The Investigation

All year, ever since the beginning, I noticed that the students enjoyed creating things such as inclined planes, wheel and axels, and levers in the forms of ramps, catapults and creatve vehicles.

I told them these were called simple machines and that I had noticed they were very interested in them! When I asked if they would like to dig deeper and inquire about simple machines, they were very excited!  We already have a good supply of materials for engineering, but I set out some different materials for them to explore.

They were very excited to explore and see what they noticed! 

I cannot tell you how many times these kids failed, problem solved, failed again, collaborated, failed and persisted as they explored ways to create and use simple machines! They truly learned to look at failure as a positive learning experience in order to help them figure out why something didn't work and how they could change it and try again! Look at the excitement at the end of the video below of the children when one of their friends was finally successful after many design changes!

During an investigation of Inclined planes we created a challenge. They had to create an inclined plane that would roll the cylinder right to the end of the ribbon.  They observed each other and used what they noticed to adjust the board and see if they could do it. 

Look at how excited they got when a friend finally did it!  They noticed that the cylinder went faster or slower depending on the angle of the inclined plane! 

This brought up a question. We have been discussing the terms "effort," "force" and "load."  They learned that simple machines helped us use less effort. They learned effort was force and there were two kinds of force: push and pull...but no one pushed or pulled the cylinder down the ramp! This brought up the discussion of gravity being a force that pulls! They applied this knowledge and commented often about it as they created and played with lego and geoboard marble mazes. 

They also explored the force of gravity and inclined planes by creating marble paintings and drip paintings! I love combining art and science! 

They developed an interest in Rube Goldburg Machines! They noticed when observing videos that sometimes the balls went up ramps and wondered how since they felt gravity wouldn't allow that! They explored this concept and took it as a challenge. They created new ramps to figure it out and found out that the force of push could be stronger than the pulling force of gravity on the ball. 

They tried creating Rube Goldburg Machines. These machines are a chain of events that do something for you.  They really had to problem solve to make these work! The video below shows one one of many that were created.  It was supposed to knock over the blocks at the end, but she still had some problem solving to do!

The amount of dedication, problem solving, persistence, collaboration, and grit that these kids have shown during this inquiry has amazed me!  These kids have these 21st Century Skills and are using them constantly!  

The kids have picked a simple machine to become an expert in and are hunting for simple machines around our school. Their next steps are to organize their data  and then create their simple machine! We are hoping to do an open house or presentation to show our simple machines to other classes and parents, but with Spring Break and conferences coming up I know that will be difficult! We will try our best!


  1. Hi Darla! I happened upon your blog over a year ago and I just LOVE it! I am so inpired by the work you do with your students!!! I have beenn teaching kindergarten for 22+ years and am very drawn to the reggion way of doing things!!! I just don't know how to begin!!! I have read, read, read and done research on my own, but it seems so overwhelming to me to just jump in and begin! I don't know where to begin? Do I schedule my day with a little more structure in the morning for reading and math leaving the afternoon for projects? Will I have enough "stuff" to keep the "littles" engaged? Will I ask the right questions to keep them interested and learning? Are there existing projects available that I can use as a springboard to try out a project? Understanding that each project is unique to its learners, I am looking more for a way for me to better understand how to go through a project from start to finish:) I really think I need a project mentor:)!!! Thank you in advance for any suggestions you may be able to share:) Thank you for the wonderful work you do:)

    1. Hi KK! I am so glad you get inspiration from my blog! I started out just like you! I read like crazy, friended teachers on twitter and instagram for for inspiration, read books, etc! In the beginning I took baby steps. I took themes that I had done forever since I began teaching and instead of doing the typical 2 weeks, I tried to make it more inquiry based. Fall/Trees is a good one to start with. Take them outside to look at the trees and see what they noticed and wondered. Write it all down and then set out experiences for them to explore with leaves, fall colors, etc. Read books and watch videos about Fall, trees, and leaves. Encourage them to use art materials such as clay, paint, watercolor, pastels, collage, etc. to document what they notice about trees and leaves. Leave out notebooks and clipboards with papers to write about what they notice about trees, leaves, fall, etc. Allow them to share what they create and notice. As a class create a web map about fall or trees to organize what they had learned. For fall we don't do any big projects other than collaborative art project of a fall tree maybe. Since it is still early in the year, we keep it simple. You will find out that rather than two weeks, They will explore for much longer. They will ask new questions during the investigation that will give you more ideas. Your Inquiry might not be perfect the first time, but each year you will improve! Weather is another good one to start with when you are ready to try projects since we usually do it later in the year. Good luck and don't expect perfection! I can't emphasize taking baby steps enough otherwise you will be overwhelmed. It took me a few years to finally feel like I really knew what I was doing! As long as you are passionate about it, you will get there! Good luck!