Middle School Science Lessons for Teaching Simple Machines

The simple machines unit is truly one of my favorite science concepts to teach in the middle school classroom. This unit is packed with opportunities for building problem-solving skills, real life science application, and design challenges. In essence, I find that teaching simple machines to be a really fantastic way to make science FUN for 6th grade through 8th grade students. If you are a teacher looking for engaging and effective simple machine lesson plans to add to your physical science curriculum, these are some of my favorite middle school science lessons for teaching simple machines. 

SIMPLE MACHINES INTRODUCTORY & COMPREHENSION LESSONS

Although we all love hands-on activities and simple machine projects (don’t worry — I’ll get to some of those!!) — it’s important to also incorporate middle school science lessons for teaching simple machines that introduce and deepen student understanding of these important topics. For that, I’ve created a series of resources to help you teach the basic principles involved in different types of simple machines. 

WORK, POWER, & SIMPLE MACHINES — GOOGLE SLIDES

Are you ready to move past the “sit and get” style of whole-group instruction? If you answered YES — this presentation is for YOU! Keep your students engaged and accountable with this interactive, versatile presentation. Embedded frequently within these colorful slides are multiple stopping points that require students to predict, reflect, connect, and think critically about the information being presented.

The topics covered in this presentation include:

  • work
  • power
  • simple machines
  • mechanical advantage

​SIMPLE MACHINES READING COMPREHENSION

I believe that teaching literacy is the job of every teacher, not just the heroes in English and Language Arts. And the only way we can help our students improve is by modeling and giving them chances to practice. Read out loud together, annotate, and spark classroom discussion today!

Topics covered in this resource include:

  • inclined plane
  • lever
  • wedge
  • wheel & axle
  • pulley
  • screw

​These reading comprehension sheets can be used as a whole class discussion activity, a learning station, and even make great substitute teacher plans. Check them out: 

WORK, POWER, & SIMPLE MACHINES PRACTICE WORKSHEETS

These practice worksheets will give your students the chance to apply their knowledge of simple machines. Each of these resources come in both print and digital forms. This resource includes 5 pages of student practice, covering the following skills:

  • Solving for work, force, and distance
  • Solving for work, power, and time
  • Identifying simple machines (within a compound machine)
  • Solving for mechanical advantage

Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt

Whenever I have the opportunity to get my middle schoolers up and out of their seats…I take it! Since simple machines are a part of everyday life, there are examples all around us. I like to dedicate one class period during our physical science unit to having a “Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt.” During this hunt, we explore the school building to find at least 3 examples of each simple machines. 

These include: <SH4>

  • Pulley system 
  • Lever 
  • Wheel 
  • Axel 
  • Wedge 
  • Inclined Plane
  • Screw

Students are always surprised by how many examples of different simple machines they find just by exploring the school building. After the given amount of “hunting time” — we return to the classroom to share and discuss the various simple machines they were able to find. 

BONUS:

If you’re looking for a good middle school Thanksgiving Activity — I’ve created a Thanksgiving themed Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt. You can check it out HERE.

RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINES

Named for the famous cartoonist, Rube Goldberg machines are contraptions that perform simple tasks (ex: wiping someone’s chin with a napkin) in a complicated way. These machines are constructed of many simple machines interacting with one another to accomplish a specific task. I’ve found that middle schoolers are drawn to the creativity and “out of the box” thinking that Rube Goldberg machines represent. Truthfully, this is probably my favorite of the middle school science lessons for teaching simple machines. 

​Here are a few different ways you can incorporate these silly and whimsical examples of simple machines into your lesson plans: 

​RUBE GOLDBERG GALLERY WALK


For this activity, print a series of Rube Goldberg’s simple machine illustrations and post them around your classroom or down a hallway. (HERE is a great series of images you could use.) I find that it’s helpful to assign a number to each image, to make it easier for students to record their observations. Next, students will “tour the gallery” stopping to observe each machine and make notes of which simple machines they see in each image. This activity is a great partner pair activity. It can also be used independently.

RUBE GOLDBERG DRAWINGS

This activity is popular amongst my artistic students. Having your students draw their own complex machines, following the Rube Goldberg comic style. This great activity will get their creative juices flowing and will give them the chance to apply their simple machine knowledge to their drawings. Once the drawings have been completed, you may have students vote on which comic is the best. 

BUILD YOUR OWN RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE

​If you’re looking for a fun way to get students using the engineering design process, this a great hands-on activity to incorporate into your unit plan. For this activity, students will work in groups to construct a Rube Goldberg style machine that accomplishes a simple task, such as turning on a computer, sharpening a pencil, or pushing in a chair. Begin by having students draw a blueprint of the machines they intend to build. (I’ve found that requiring “teacher approval” for the blueprint before building can begin helps to cut down on wasted time and wasted supplies.

Once students have an approved blueprint, they can begin constructing their machines using supplies such as: 

  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Hammers (or other basic tools) 
  • Can openers 
  • Rolling pins 
  • Lightbulbs
  • Door stops
  • Pizza cutters 

Of course — students will need to bring in some of the supplies they intend to use. Once the machines are completed, it’s fun to hold a “Rube Goldberg Testing Day” in which you give each group the chance to demonstrate the effectiveness of their machines. 

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