Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Students often think to themselves, "Simple machines, again!"

"Simple machines," appears to be a topic that is covered again and again in science curricula. Students have often been heard to complain about studying the same thing year after year. Repetition with added depth is one way to enhance learning, but, how can students stay interested if they, "shut down," after they hear the topic and think it is already something they know about?

One way to engage the students in additional learning is to quickly state that the class will be learning more about the topic and then gradually bridge students to current uses for the topic through interesting stories about the topic.

I remember becoming interested in simple machines on finding out that by using them, my uncle was able to move a whole house by himself with his horse. Can you think what simple machines would allow one to do that?

Another way to use repetition to build depth of knowledge on a topic is to add a touch of history. Some students like history, or perceive that history enhances science. An example of using historical treasures to enhance student learning on simple machines, for example, could be to include Archimedes' screw when studying the screw. Do you remember how hard it was to think of the screw as a simple machine when you were 7 or 8 years old? It didn't seem to do any work. A look at provides a link to some early references on the screw, for older students that are learning more than primary students did about simple machines. If your students are studying Latin, the link also provides links to Latin sources. Language, too, can help some students with science knowledge acquisition.

But, science is not all about antiquity. We are not studying a, "dead science." Science is very much alive. How are simple machines used today? One way is in robotics: Can you find other ways?

Additional sources
  1. A brief biography of Archimedes---
  2. Longer biographies of Archimedes (But, still brief...)---
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  3. Definition (with links) -Archimedes' screw
  4. Simple Machines in 1990 research paper

(c) 2009 J S Shipman

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