Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Realizing the Importance of Simple Machines

Do you ever wonder how things work? What makes the hands on a clock move? The keys on a vintage typewriter print letters on a piece of paper? How did mechanical cash registers calculate transactions? If you were to take these items apart you would find they operate with the help of simple machines. For example, clock hands move because of a simple machine called a gear. Vintage typewriters and cash registers function due to the help of levers.

The 3rd/4th grade Gifted Differentiated Engagement Block (DEB) learning theme for the year is Exploration. Currently, the students are exploring inventions and inventors throughout history. To that end, students were invited to explore and understand how simple machines/inventions work and how inventors invest hard work and effort to solve a problem. Students were then posed with a challenge. They were asked to choose a scene from a favorite book to illustrate and animate. With the help of Mrs. Sayre, the students were introduced to automatons. An automaton is a machine that performs a function. For the activity, I required that their automatons included a simple machine which animated the action of a character(s) in the scene.

To encourage critical thinking skills the students were encouraged to begin by planning and brainstorming the scene that they wanted to portray.  The tables were covered with paper as a visual way of design thinking. Next, the students began creating the scene for their automatons using construction paper, pipe cleaners, and pictures.

Once their scene was completed, they were to begin the construction of the simple machine. The students watched videos of automatons to help them determine the order of steps that needed to be taken to create their simple machine. The materials that were supplied for the students were dowel rods, foam paper, straws, and cardboard. When problems arose I guided the students in asking them questions, such as "Why do you think the dowel rod is spinning instead of moving up and down? What can we do to create more space in your box in order for your wheel to spin? What can you do to make your wheel stop spinning along the dowel rod?" My favorite part of the project was seeing the students persevere through trial and error moments, just like real inventors. It was exciting to see them find solutions to problems that occurred with their machines, and better yet watching them help each other solve their problems.

To tie in our English Language Arts curriculum into the activity, next week the class we will read the story, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, which revolves around the history of the automata. It will be interesting to listen to the connections they make throughout the reading to their own activity.

Enjoy the videos of some of the automatons created in class!