6 Projects for Learning about Simple Machines
Simple machines are tools with few or no moving parts that make work easier. There are six types of simple machines: lever, inclined plane, wedge, screw, wheel and axle, and pulley.
I love starting out a lesson on simple machines of brainstorming as a class all of the examples of different simple machines they can think of. We’re surrounded by simple machines! And imagine if we didn’t have them? It’s easy to see how they make work easier.
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Now let’s get into simple machines!
What is work?
When referring to work in physics, it’s different than your typical definition of “work.”
Work is defined as an amount of force (or effort) to move an object a distance. The equation is simple:
W = Fd
These simple machine projects show how the machine makes the work easier. Just think of all the examples before! How difficult would it be to pull an elevator to the top of a building? It would be impossible for us to do on our own. But with pulleys, it’s possible and makes the work easier.
Use these project ideas as creative (and crafty) demonstrations of simple machines! They can be done in groups or the teacher can use them as a demonstration for the class. They make a great activity at home too for your future engineers who love building!
6 Fun Simple Machine Projects
We’ve outlined here an example project for every type of simple machines:
- Wheel & Axle
The first project here is how to make your own pulley!
This project by Carrots are Orange is great! You can do more than just build your own pulley. Turn it into a game to see how much your pulley can lift!
Why just make an inclined plane when you can make a racecourse? You can use marbles or toy cars with this project.
I love this simple machine project for demonstrating a lever! While it isn’t necessary to label which side is demonstrating the load and effort, its a great way to reinforce the lesson!
The easiest (and most common example) of a wedge is an ax. Since you don’t want kids playing with axes, you can still demonstrate how a wedge works with playdough!
Use triangular, wedge blocks. You can make miniature “logs” with the play dough. Have the kids try to cut the play dough with just the flat part of their hand. It doesn’t work. Now, try cutting it with your wedge and see what happens!
5. Demonstrating Screws
The best way to demonstrate how a screw makes work easier is to take a simple piece of wood. First try pushing a nail in with your hand – you can’t. Next, show how you can screw in a screw. It may be one that you want to demonstrate! But for older students, they can learn hands-on too with close supervision.
This one is by far my favorite! When you think of a wheel and axel, the first thing that comes to mind is a car.
Start with just your tube. When you try to push it across the floor, you can do much. Now imagine if you tried to fill it with weights. It would be so much easier if it had wheels!
Use straws or chopsticks as the axel. Plastic bottle caps make great wheels. You can decorate your cars however you want! And don’t feel limited to just cardboard rolls. Plastic bottles work great too – let kids design their very own recycled car.
For some additional free resources and worksheets on simple machines, check out this blog post too! You’ll find free worksheets and PowerPoint presentations to help guide your lesson alongside these projects.