‘Simple machines make work easier to do. Use a wedge or a lever or a pully or a screw, a wheel and axle or an inclined plane. They’re all simple machines, simple machines.’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Fhs8pXGxM)
In recent years there have been many references made to the term “STEM education”. STEM is an education approach which encompasses Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. It encourages children to engage in the process of learning using scientific methods. The children develop their ability to observe, question, inquire, test out ideas, investigate, reflect, and collaborate with their peers. As the children exchange their thoughts and ideas they begin to solve problems together, expanding on each other’s ideas and extending their learning.
During our initial planning of this unit, it was important for us to firstly understand what the children knew about machines. I asked the children during circle time to name a machine and explain to me what the machine did and how it worked. Many of the children found it very hard to answer. One child said a car was a machine, it took him to school and had wheels. This was followed by many other wheeled vehicle suggestions! Another child suggested a popcorn machine which made popcorn, somehow! The children knew we used different machines but could not explain how they worked and why we needed them.
It was important that the children understood that within the complex machines they knew were simple mechanisms such as levers, wedges and pulleys and that machines were often combined.
The teachers purchased a number of fact and fiction books which explained how simple machines work and how we use these machines in our everyday life.
I realised that objects such as the screw top of a jar and the pull cap on my favourite tin of beans were simple machines! We bought a wooden cable car and a remote control crane so the children could see how these machines worked. We also visited the hardware shop to buy wheels, rods, drain pipes, etc. to enable the children to use real-life equipment and tools.
In the role play area, we created a workshop where the children could explore the tools, rods, screws, nuts, bolts, etc. This allowed the children to explore, design, construct, deconstruct, redesign and reconstruct amazing machines of their own.
They also made catapults, balancing scales and flag poles with a pulley system, and they experimented with ramps and inclines to move loads and to race cars. We also took our experiments out into the garden and made seesaws and ramp ways for wheelbarrows, used diggers with levers in the sand pit and made ball catapults with planks of wood.
“We made ramps you can go up and down with the cars.” (Arthur)
“I snowboard on the lever.” (Solomiia)
“A pulley is a simple machine. It moves things.” (Emma)
“Bicycles have wheels. We move the wheels, and it can go. We can go on and we can keep going on to a place we want!” (Sebastian)
Our unit on simple machines has embraced STEM education and has proved to be a wonderful, engaging and motivating unit for the class with lots of practical activities.
STEM learning works brilliantly indoors and outdoors. Our unit on simple machines has been a big hit with all the children and was definitely the most popular unit of this school year.
Sarah Warner, Kindergarten 1 Teacher, SIS Männedorf-Zürich