Simple Machines

  • Topics
  • Scientific Visualization Objectives
  • Physical Science Objectives
  • Tools
  • Teacher Instructions
  • Text References
  •  Student Assignment
  • Evaluation Criteria
  • Link to samples from projects

  • Created by SciVis Students at Southwest Guilford High School
    click the camera to see the propeller work
      Purpose:  To produce an informational presentation on simple machines combining 2D and 3D graphics, animations, digital photos, and experimental data.  This project  requires students to integrate many  skills.  It is appropriate for a major portfolio project .

    Overview:  Students will research the basic concepts of simple machines, design and conduct experimental calculations of mechanical advantage and prepare a multimedia presentation of simple machines and their experimental findings.  This  project will take 3 to 4 weeks depending on students' level of expertise with the software.


        Scientific Visualization:  Design and Problem Solving,  Applying 2D and 3D techniques
        Science:  Simple Machines

    NC Scientific and Technical Visualization Objectives:

    Level I
        2.00 Apply problem solving and design concepts
        2.02 Apply problem solving and design methodology
        3.02 Apply the concepts and principles of computer file management
        5.00 Apply 2D and 3D visualization techniques

    NC Physical Science Goals and Objectives:

    Competency Goals:
        8:   The learner will have an understanding of  mechanics.
        8.1  Demonstrate knowledge of work, energy, and power.
        8.1.1 Conduct laboratory activities and experiments on work, power, and energy including how they are related.

    Software:   Possible tools are listed, the project will depend somewhat on what tools are available to use.

    Power Point or other presentation software
    Corel Photo Paint
    3D Studio (Autodesk)
    Excel or Delta Graph
    Digital Camera

    other equipment such as video cameras and video capture cards can be used if available

    Simple machines lab equipment -  this equipment could be borrowed from the Science Department or bought fairly cheaply
    -spring balance to measure force
    -set of measured weights or weights and balance
    -various levers - scissors, nut cracker, bottle opener, ring stand and meter stick with holes drilled every 10 cm
    -pulleys and string
    -screw and screw driver

    Teacher Background:

    This project is large and well suited to group work.  Group sizes of 3 or 4 work well.

    It is essential that students convey conceptual understanding.  Mere copying of definitions for work and mechanical advantage is not sufficient.  Their presentations must explain concepts graphically.   Although all of us use simple machines every day in a variety of ways, students need to develop their conceptual understanding.  To do this they need concrete,  hands-on experiences identifying parts of machines and measuring mechanical advantage.  This is why the requirements for this project include collecting experimental data and the labeling a digital image.   The information below will not replace hands on experimentation with simple machines nor study of  a more in depth treatment of the topic such as would be found in a high school text book.

    Simple machines are devices such as levers, ramps, and pulleys that make our work easier.  They allow us to apply effort at one place to do work at another point and or to change the direction of a force.    They do this in different ways.  One way is to magnify an effort force so that a smaller effort can be applied over a longer distance thus moving a large load a small distance. Examples of this include a crowbar being used to dislodge a boulder, a nutcracker being used to crack a nut,  or a block and tackle pulley system being used to lift a large weight.  The mechanical advantage of a machine is the ratio of the load force to the effort force.  The crowbar, nutcracker and block and tackle pulley system have a mechanical advantage greater than one.  Other machines have a mechanical advantage less than one allowing a magnification of the distance and speed of a movement.  An example of this might be a fishing rod or baseball bat.  The six types of simple machines that your students should include in their presentations are listed below with some examples.  Encourage different groups to use different examples for their experiments, graphics and animations.

    inclined plane: ramp

    wedge: ax, knife,  zipper

    screw:  wood screw, corkscrew, screws on light bulbs etc., jar lids

    wheel and axle:  doorknob, bicycle gears, screw driver

    pulley:  elevators, window blinds

    lever:  the class of a lever is based on the relative position of the load, effort and fulcrum.

    1st class:  crowbar, scissors
    2nd class: nutcracker, wheel barrow
    3rd class:  tennis racket, tweezers
    Students should design an experiment to calculate the mechanical advantage and efficiency for at least one type of machine.  (High school physical science texts show a variety of experimental designs.) Mechanical advantage is the ratio of  the load or resistance  force to the effort  force.  Students can use spring balances and known weights to measure these forces.  The ideal mechanical advantage is what could be obtained if friction were not a factor.  It is the ratio of the effort distance to the load distance.  By dividing the mechanical advantage by the ideal mechanical advantage the efficiency is obtained.  The students should use their machine on a number of different loads.  Then their data will consist of the effort force required to move each load as measured on a spring balance or by using the known weights.   Alternatively they might use the same load with different configurations of their machine (for example different lever lengths or numbers of moveable pulleys) and show how the changing ratio of the distance the load moves to the distance to the effort force moves  changes the effort needed.

    An important aspect of this curriculum is the presentation of technical data.  Encourage students to present their experimental data correctly according to the guidelines for charts and graphs. (See Scientific Visualization Blueprint.)  Students should prepare and present a data table as well as a graph of their data.

    Text References and Resources

     Physical Science texts:

        Cuevas, M., and Lamb, W. (1994). Physical Science. Austin, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

        Exploring Physical Science. (1995). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

        Thompson, M., McLaughlin, C., and Smith, R. (1995). Merrill Physical Science.   New York: Glencoe Division of McGraw Hill School Publishing.

    CD ROM

    Macaulay, D, (1998) The New Way Things Work CD-ROM (1st edition called The  Way Things Work)    DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley); ISBN: 078943895X   (available through
    Data Presentation
    Bertoline, G.R., Wiebe, E.N., Miller, C., & Mohler, J.L. (1997) Technical Graphics Communications. (2nd Edition) Burr Ridge; IL: WCB/McGraw Hill.

    Student Design Brief                                                                                                  Name______________________

    Design a visualization to illustrate the basic principles of simple machines to a 9th or 10th grade physical science class audience.  You may choose to create a presentation designed for a teacher to use with a whole class or a module that could be used as a tutorial by a single student.  Your visualization must show in enough detail that the audience will understand and could repeat an experiment that allows the calculation of mechanical advantage or efficiency.

    Scientific concepts which must be covered:
         Do not just define these concepts with words - use graphics to explain them!!!

    6 simple machine types including all 3 classes of levers
    Mechanical Advantage

    Graphics requirements (minimums) :

    electronic presentation
    8 2D  static images ( 1 for each machine type)
    one animation of a machine  per group member
    one digital photo image with inserted labels
    one spreadsheet table and associated graph with experimental data


    1.  Set Up

    Select a group leader. Turn in to teacher.

    2.  Develop understanding of your topic

        Research simple machines and associated topics:
            Use available books and other resources,
            Use the equipment available to explore how each type of simple machine works,
            Develop an experiment to calculate the mechanical advantage and efficiency for one type of machine with several different setups:
                examples include:
                    lever with different weight to lift or with fulcrum in different positions,
                    pulley set up with different numbers or sizes of moveable pulley
                    wheels with different gear ratios.
            Carry out the experiment and record the data.
        Develop a storyboard for your overall presentation. Turn in to teacher.

    3.  Plan your presentation

     Develop a plan of action and divide up the responsibilities for your group.
     List the group members and which part of the project each will be responsible for. Turn in to teacher.

    4.  Execute your plan

    Set up overall slide presentation.
    Work on graphics and and insert into presentation.
    Work on animations and insert into presentation.
    Take digital photo of a machine (preferably one used in your experiment), add labels, insert into presentation.
    Insert the data from your experiment into a spreadsheet.
    Design an appropriate graphical presentation of your data.
    Insert the data and graphs into your presentation.

    5.  Review Your Progress

    Your group should now preview your presentation as a whole making sure that it all works, fits together coherently, and meets all the project requirements.  Make any needed improvements.

    6.  Present Your Project

    Present the project to the class.
    Ask the class for their comments and suggestions.
    Save your project on electronic media. Turn in to teacher.
    7.  Evaluate Your Work
    As a group write a reflection explaining at least three strengths of your project, what problems you had to overcome to produce it and detailing what you would change about it if you could.  This should be word processed and  no longer than 1 page.  Turn in to teacher.
    Due Dates:
    Group Leader:  ___________
    Story Board:     ___________
    Plan of Action:  ___________
    Presentation:     ___________
    Final Reflection:___________

    Team Members: __________________________

    Available Software: ___________________________

    Available Hardware: ____________________________

    Evaluation Criteria:

     Success will be measured by the following criteria:
    project planning, storyboard and group coordination
    all six simple machine types included in presentation 
        levers (3)
        wheel and axle
    graphics clear - easy to see and understand  good choice of colors, appropriate backgrounds
    12   (2 ea.)
    graphics labeled 
    effort and resistance distances clearly labeled and related to mechanical advantage. 
    concepts of work and efficiency explained  graphically.
    animations work 
    animations contribute to understanding how machines work
    experimental data presented in table format 
    experimental data presented in graphical format
    graph format  chosen is appropriate for the data 
    graph appropriately labeled
    digital picture labeled and included
    picture contributes to understanding  of machines
    overall project (fits together,  holds viewers attention, conveys science concepts)
    presentation to class


    Possible extensions include actually presenting this to physical science classes, producing a CD ROM for Physical Science classes to use, developing a class web site on machines, producing an animation of a more complex machine, or studying color issues as related to rendering.

    Link to Sample Project          Top of Page              Lesson Plan Menu


    last update 5/11/00