A simple machines unit is a great one to teach using a constructivist approach. With some hands on experimentation, students can see the impact that using a lever or inclined plane has on work. Direct instruction to incorporate vocabulary supplements the observations students have made and allows them to draw conclusions about how simple machines work.
A few pieces to include in your simple machines unit:
- Direct instruction. Here, I use a slide show and cloze notes and focus on vocabulary.
- Experimentation. Using a few blocks of wood, some meter sticks, a spring scale, a pulley, and a binder clip, students can experiment with levers, pulleys, and inclined planes. Depending on the level of student, you can provide as much or as little guidance as they need. Here is a simple inclined planes lab I use. It allows students to compare the mechanical advantage of a short inclined plane and a long inclined plane and determine how effort distance and effort force are related in work input. This lab is a more complicated lab exploring levers using a constructivist approach. Students build 1st, 2nd and 3rd class levers and then arrange the fulcrum, effort force, and load into various configurations to see how the positions affect mechanical advantage, leading to an understanding of the different ways machines make work easier.
- Practice with vocabulary. I use a word map activity and a Boom Card activity to reinforce the vocabulary.
- Problem based learning projects:
- Machines in history. Have students research the top 5 most important machines (or top 10, or 5 most influential, or 8 most important from this century…) and design a museum exhibit explaining them.
- Kinetic sculpture project. Use what you learned about simple machines to create a kinetic sculpture. Incorporate environmental learning by using recycled materials.
- Machine advertisement. Create a 45 second video ad convincing people that they need to buy your simple machine.
- Final project – Catapult creation. Use what you learned to build a catapult that will propel a mini-marshmallow the farthest.