Inquiry into simple machines

I am including a post from my blog at Edna’s request. Thank you Edna for the thumbs up! 🙂

This topic is familiar with many, but what maybe different, are the challenges I faced with this particular lot of learners. They struggle with the English language; their parents are also not very comfortable participating in their children’s learning. Here’s how I tackled these two issues while inquiring into simple machines.

Teachers are always looking for ways to assess children and one way to find them is by foraging through the world-wide web.

Formative assessments can be as simple as taking notes, talking to children, recording a scenario on video, an exit slip, or a simple checklist. The purpose of the formative assessment is to know what the student’s know and need to understand; it also informs the children what they know and need to investigate further.

The children need to understand the following concept:  Machines make our lives easier. We can show children different examples of machines and test them on their knowledge by giving them a ‘test’. However, this is but one way of assessing their knowledge. In order for the students to embrace this understanding and apply it in real life situations, they need to experience the simple machines.

They need to build them, analyze them and draw parallels with the world around them.

For the last two weeks, they have been exploring machines, building machines, going on a machine hunt, reading books about machines, and watching movies where machines have been used. The students made up a machine dance too. They found it hard to express their learning through their journals or orally. We therefore focused on vocabulary for a whole week. Following this, I gave them plenty of opportunities to practice them. This boosted their confidence. You can inquire as much as you want to, but if you can’t express yourself, hmmm…

A few moments during the process of inquiry.

At the gym, Novatel Hotel
Getting help, building a ramp.
Creating a trebuchet with pencils
Trying out the catapult
A machine dance
Understanding how machines make lives easier
Figuring out where the load, pivot and fulcrum is.

The students created a catapult using a punching machine, some blue tack and a few rubber bands. The had to throw a ball made of foil as far as possible and measure the distance.

We invited a parent (who is a very creative and enthusiastic amateur scientist). He made an amazing power generator using wire, rubber balls and screws! Most parents were reluctant to participate in their children’s learning as they were either too busy or could not communicate in English. In order to encourage them, I posted a video of this parent interacting with the children in the classroom. I then invited the parents to my class and showed them many videos of young children demonstrating their compound machines.

Suddenly there was a buzz in the room and everyone was itching to go home and start working on the compound machines. I really needed parents’ support for this assignment!

Before I show you their videos here are some of the formative assessments I created along the way.

If you are doing a unit on this topic, please feel free to use the resources. If you have any great resources you want to share with us, we will be delighted to have them.

Formative Assessment

Summative :
The student task : to design a machine that would :
a) pop a balloon
b) lift a bucket of water
c) ring a bell
d) push a ball into a hole
  1. They must design a machine using at least 2 simple machines.
  2. They have to use IT skills and upload their video on YouTube, generate the embed code and transfer same to blog.
  3. Their video must be clear and creative.







Though some of these students may be struggling with the language, using correct scientific vocabulary ensured that their presentations could be understood.

They had fun. The parents had fun. I sighed and closed my “How The World Works” file.

Student action? Though I closed my file, two of my male students are creating a machine. They will not tell me anything about it yet. It’s supposed to be a surprise.


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4 Responses to Inquiry into simple machines

  1. kdceci says:

    What a great insight into your unit. I’m reading selfishly as we are reworking a Where We Are in Place and Time unit that might bring in Simple Machines. What grade do you teach? Great activities, learning, action, all done with ELL with ease. Thanks for sharing!


  2. ibdanmagie says:

    Thanks for sharing your process and your thoughts! I think your posting illustrates how inquiry and knowledge content must work hand-in-hand.

    Daniel Willingham has a web-source with many articles that highlight the importance of having something to inquire about/with.

    Here is a small excerpt that I think relates to this blog posting:

    “…that is, the goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills such as thinking critically. Knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.

    It’s true that knowledge gives students something to think about, but a reading of the research literature from cognitive science shows that knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: It actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more—the rich get richer.” -Daniel Willingham (from

    Thanks for reading,



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    information for me. And i’m happy studying your article. However want to remark on some common things, The web site style is perfect, the articles is in point of fact nice : D. Excellent job, cheers


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