This program is based on the Lego Simple Machines Set, which we bought through Lego Education. We bought 4 kits, which we were sharing between 16 kids, so we supplemented with Legos and minifigures from the sets we use for our regular Lego clubs. We considered a variety of activities, but settled on the free activity provided on the Lego Education site in which the kids use simple machines to design an amusement park ride.
I printed out a handout showing the six simple machines (inclined plane, wheel and axle, lever, wedge, pulley, screw) with examples. I’m not sure if I can link it here, since I pretty much stole it from Encyclopedia Britannica. I originally planned to talk about the types and have the kids build an example of each before moving on to the amusement park ride. Since our 3rd grade curriculum covers Simple Machines, the 3rd – 5th grade group skipped the review and jumped straight to the building. It turns out that it’s very hard to make an inclined plane with Legos and there were no screws in the set, which focuses on wheel and axle, lever, pulley, and gears (which are not generally considered one of the six simple machines.)
For the K-2nd grade group, I simplified a bit by making a demo of each of the simple machines. I couldn’t manage the screw, and there wasn’t one in the set. The kids knew about screws as hardware, but I wish there was a nice visual way to show them how to use a screw to raise or lower something.
When the kids came in, we had my demo machines out on the table and we asked them to play with them a little bit until the program started. If they were satisfied that they knew how theirs worked, they could trade with someone else. This kept them busy until everyone came in. Then we went over the six simple machines listed on the sheet. I told them what it’s called and they gave examples of how each is used, and then I asked them to hold up the Lego sample if they had it.
My inclined plane was a bit of a kluge- there just isn’t a great way to do that with Lego, but everyone is familiar with ramps, so that was ok. Later in the program, one of the kids who was building a roller coaster did find a nice way to make an inclined plane using a jointed Lego piece.
There is a Lego brick separator which came with the set that works well as both a wedge and a lever.
For the wheel and axle, I just made a simple assembly – kind of like a really lame wheelbarrow, I guess.
For the pulley demo, I wanted to show how they can turn either wheel in either direction and the other wheel follows. They should see that both wheels turn in the same direction. There was only one size wheel, so we couldn’t really talk about relative speed of the wheels.
I did go ahead and make a gear demo, even though we’ve already established that gears are not simple machines. Just like with the pulleys, I wanted the kids to see that they can turn any of the three gears and the other two come along. However, unlike the pulley, I highlighted that adjoining gears move in opposite directions. Also, since there are different sizes of gears, we showed that the bigger gear turns more slowly than the smaller ones.
With both groups, for the actual amusement park ride, some of the kids followed one of the examples provided, while others did free building. I can’t say that they were all totally focused on the simple machines aspect, but I did see some good learning, as well as the general teamwork involved in working together, sharing pieces, etc. For the younger kids, I made sure to go around at the end and take pictures of their creations. For each creation, I asked the kids to label which simple machine(s) they had used. Some of them did not use any simple machines in their final products, but it was a good chance to reinforce the simple machines lesson. When building, most of them were just thinking about building, not specifically about simple machines.
The pictures below are all from the K-2 program. As you can see, not all include simple machines – although their builders were able to articulate that fact, so I guess they learned something about simple machines.