Building Machines to Learn About Energy

Wednesdays are the best days, not because it’s downhill until the weekend, but because it’s River Classroom time! Yesterday we were back at The Wildlife Center and back to our energy curriculum.

We began by refreshing our memories- what’s the difference between a motor and a generator? How do motors work? Where does electricity come from? How does a battery work? Why is metal a good conductor? The students remembered much of this, even though we haven’t talked about it in over a month.

After discussing these energy basics, we let the kids go with one task: build something. We had assembled a demonstration- a tower with two pulleys. Students had to build a simple machine with given materials. This machine had to do something. Anything. Move a weight, go up and down, etc. Also, they were not allowed to copy our design.

Prior to beginning, students had to develop a plan and a diagram. It didn’t have to be complete, and they didn’t have to stick to it entirely, but they had to have some idea of what they were going to do. This diagram had to be checked off before they could begin working. Checking off their ideas was fun- some of them were fantastic, some had a few issues, and some had pretty big problems. Rather than correcting their plans, we let the groups have at it. Everybody made corrections to their machines over the hour they were given to work.

A student writing instructions on how to build her group’s machine.

We had different sized boards, pulleys, string, tape, hand saws, drills, nails, screws, hammers, pliers, and more. Our classroom looked like a hardware store! In the course of building, many students used these tools for the first time, and we incorporated safety instruction at the sawing and drilling tables.

A group decides which materials to use.
A groups of students assembles the base of their machine

Our groups did a fantastic job taking turns- everybody got a chance to get their hands dirty. We also noticed several groups voting on designs in situations where two group members had different ideas. Teamwork!

This guy can fix anything!
Another group assembling their machine

All in all, everybody had a great time, although after an hour a few groups were a little rushed for time. In the end, everybody came up with a plan for a working machine.

Final assembly, with the clock counting down!

  Several groups demonstrated their machines for the class.

Students show off a working crane!

As part of their reflections, students had to describe a practical application for their machine. Here are a few excerpts:

“If it was bigger it could be used as a crane.”

“I would use this in a restaurant [to deliver food] ”

“Our invention could be used in building areas to move large objects short distances.”

“This could be used to deliver items from place to place and stop pollution by carrying people and items instead of cars.”

All of the simple machines had great practical uses. If these kids are the future, we’ll be just fine!


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