What Are Simple Machines?
Pretend that you are living on this world thousands of years ago as a caveman. There is no technology. There are no modern appliances. In fact, there are little to no inventions whatsoever. You have a job to do today: you need to get something that is stuck under a big boulder. The boulder is so heavy that it is difficult to move it on your own. There's nothing around to help you, except a stick. What would you do? The easiest thing to do would be to put the stick under the boulder, push down on the end of the stick to move the boulder and retrieve the stuck object. Well, some scientists believe that this is how simple machines got started.
Simple machines have few or no moving parts. Just like the stick, they use energy to work with one movement. Work is the amount of energy that is needed to move an object across a distance. Basically, when you pull, push or move something, you are performing work. The further you push, pull or move an object, the greater amount of work is needed.
There are six different types of simple machines: the inclined plane, the wedge, the screw, the lever, the pulley, and the wheel and axle. Each simple machine has a special way to make work easier for humans.
The main advantage of using simple machines is to make work easier. They allow us to use less effort to move an object. While you are technically doing the same amount of work, simple machines make it feel a lot easier because it takes less effort. Effort is the force used to move an object, which is not the same thing as work.
Let's say you try to push over a concrete wall with your bare hands, which is impossible. This would take effort, but you haven't done any work because the object has not moved. Now, what if you wanted to pick up a feather from the floor? This would take almost no effort because the feathers are so light, but you've done work because you moved the feather.
Simple machines allow you to use a smaller force to push or pull an object, which is known as having a mechanical advantage. Think about how much more tired construction workers would be if they had to lift heavy pieces of concrete to make a building without a crane. Simple machines allow us to use less energy to get things done.
Simple machines also makes jobs more efficient, which saves us a lot of time. How long does it take someone to bring a load of laundry from the second floor to the first floor? Probably no more than a minute. What if there were no stairs to go down to the first floor? This would take much longer.
Simple machines also add a lot of fun to our lives. Playgrounds have simple machines that are fun to play on, like slides and see-saws.
Slides and stairs are examples of inclined planes. See-saws are examples of levers, as well as the caveman's stick. As you learn more about the specific types of simple machines, you'll be able to identify examples, like your teeth that act like wedges!
Simple machines have few or no moving parts. They make work, which is the amount of energy that's needed to move an object across a distance, easier for us by allowing us to use less effort, the force used to move an object. There are six types of simple machines (inclined plane, wheel and axle, lever, pulley, wedge, and screw) and you can spot them in different parts of your daily life. See if you can find some today!
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Pulley Play: Hands-on Activity
In this activity, the student will make a simple machine, the pulley. Observations of the pulley's mechanism will be noted. The materials, procedure, and assessment of the activity are described in the next section.
- 2 small plastic cups
- lego blocks
1. Gather your materials.
2. With the use of your scissors, make two tiny holes under the rim of the plastic cups.
3. Cut a piece of yarn long enough to go through both holes.
4. Tie the yarn from the loose ends. Do both steps 3 and 4 for both plastic cups.
5. Cut a piece of yarn to connect both cups from the string on their rims.
6. Place the set up on a doorknob in your home.
7. Place the lego blocks in one cup.
Imagine that you work on a construction site and that you need to lift the lego blocks up to a high point of the building.
Pour the water into the other cup.
1. What happened to the cup with the lego blocks?
2. What happened to the cup with water?
3. What role did the water play in this pulley machine?
4. Research and name some pulley machines used in the real world.
1. The cup with the lego blocks was lifted up.
2. The cup with water was pulled down.
3. The cup with water acted as the force exerted to lift the other end of the string.
4. Some of the pulley machines used in the real world are found in the flag poles, theatre curtains, cranes, garage doors, and many others.
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