Simple Machines, Survivor-Style
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
- Demonstrate knowledge by designing and constructing a model of an obstacle course utilizing simple machines.
- Develop expository writing to sequentially describe the use of the model.
- Present creative and written work in an oral presentation.
- Completed graphic organizer from Lesson One to be used as a resource
- Obstacle Course Planner (PDF)
- Sample obstacle course model, photographs, drawings, or video clips from television shows.
Set Up and Prepare
- Make a class set of the Obstacle Course Planner (PDF)
- Prepare models of obstacle course events. These can be made simply with cardboard, craft sticks, bottle caps, toy car wheels, spools, twine, etc. Options: Draw, collect photographs, or record video clips of possible events from television shows. Suggestions:
Pulley: Rappelling event, hoisting water in a bucket, or running a flag up a pole
Lever: Events using a see-saw, scissors, catapults, tweezers, wheelbarrow, shovels, and bats are all forms of levers
Wedge: Ice skates, an ax for chopping wood, doorstops, knives, and nails are types of wedges.
Wheel and axle: Events with wagons, dollies, bicycles, skateboards, carts, cranks, merry-go-rounds, etc.
Inclined plane: Ramps, wings, sloping roads. An inclined plane paired with a wheel and axle: pushing a wagon uphill, or riding a skateboard down a ramp.
Screw: Bolts, screw-top lids, spiral staircases, airplane propellers, wrenches, light bulbs, key rings, and faucets are some examples.
Ask if there are questions from Lesson One, review if necessary to check for understanding of simple machines.
Initiate a discussion: "Now that you know simple machines can be found everywhere, think about a playground. What equipment would you see made from simple machines?" (Swings use pulleys; slides are inclined planes; merry-go-rounds are a wheel and axle; see-saws are levers; wedges can be seen as shovels in a sandbox; screws, of course, hold most of the equipment together but are also used as a spiral slide, spiral steps, etc.)
Encourage the students to list as many possibilities as they can brainstorm. Write a list on the blackboard.
Inquire as to how many students have seen a television show where contestants compete on some type of obstacle course. Students will suggest programs such as Survivor, Fear Factor, and Endurance. Allow the students to enthusiastically discuss the types of obstacle course events and television shows they have seen.
Inform students that their task is to show what they have learned about simple machines by creating an obstacle course for a television show of their choice, or one of their own imaginations, using six simple machines.
Model the samples, photographs, drawings, or video clips. Engage students in a discussion regarding changes or alternatives they would have used for samples. Invite students to suggest materials to use, bases to build upon, and places to find ideas. It should not be necessary to spend money; all materials are easily found at home. (One inspired idea from a student: A toilet paper roll, or biscuit can, torn along the seams makes a great spiral for a screw!)
Direct students to work with their previous partner to a) plan the course using the Obstacle Course Planner, b) write an expository paper giving detailed sequential instructions for the course, c) physically construct their model, and d) present the course and the written information to the class in an oral presentation.
Review the Obstacle Course Planner and Guidelines. Discuss that the expository writing should include instructions on how a person would run the obstacle course from start to finish. This could be written in numbered steps, or paragraph format. Discuss that the culmination of the project will require each team to share their work with the class.
Allow students to begin their work with partners. Circulate and check for understanding.
Day 2 & Day 3
Engage students in discussions regarding the progress of their work as they finish the requirements of the project.
Invite students to share their models, and read the expository writings. Allow students to positively discuss and investigate each project.
Generate excitement for the final part of the unit by informing students that they are now ‘experts' at simple machines, and they need to start thinking of ways that simple machines could be used to invent something the world has been waiting for.
Supporting All Learners
Working with partners will benefit students who are struggling with the concept of simple machines. Struggling readers or writers may be partnered with students who can benefit from helping another student. ESL students can write the planner and instructions in their first language.
Design a playground for the future using simple machines as the basis. This activity could work well for early finishers or for extra credit.
Turn the entire project into a PowerPoint presentation.
Send a letter home to explain the project getting support for your students' search for items to bring for the creation of the obstacle course. Include a list of materials in the letter that would be suitable for the project.
- Review Lesson One information.
- Discuss simple machines usage on a playground and obstacle course.
- Work with a partner to create an obstacle course with events using six simple machines.
- Work with a partner to complete an Obstacle Course Planner and an expository writing piece that provides written instructions for the course.
- Build the obstacle course in class with a partner.
- Present all work to the class.
- Were your students ready for this part of the unit after Lesson One?
- Did your students have ample previous knowledge of obstacle courses to start this project?
- Next time, will you include any other pertinent information to prepare your students?
- Do you feel the students enjoyed this activity?
- Do you believe the students had sufficient time to complete this project to the best of their abilities?
- Do you think the students had enough practice with expository writing to complete the written part of the lesson?
- Do you think this lesson provided valuable experience with simple machines?
Students should be assessed on the model based on the completion of the assignment, rather than the level of creativity. Bonus points can be awarded for creativity, color, neatness, etc. The expository writing should be assessed based on following the valid sequence of events, and thorough coverage of each part of the obstacle course. The overall weight of the project points should be determined individually.