Simple Machines

Every day we interact with incredible machines and feats of engineering that make our lives easier. Explore the fundamentals of engineering by examining the six simple machines: the lever, the screw, the pulley, the wheel and axle, the wedge, and the inclined plane. Use our scavenger hunt to identify examples of simple and complex machines in your life. Create a catapult and explore the relationship between the fulcrum and the lever.

Recommended for Year 4 to 8 

Curriculum Links

“Extend their experiences and personal explanations of the natural world through exploration, play, asking questions, and discussing simple models.”
Investigating in science: Level 1-4

“Identify and describe the effect of forces (contact and non-contact) on the motion of objects; identify and describe everyday examples of sources of energy, forms of energy, and energy transformations.”
Physical inquiry and physics concepts: Level 3-5

Setting the Scene

– Technology to view movies

– Watch the video made by the MOTAT Educators that defines the six simple machines. This video explains each machine, and features footage of the machines in action.
– Discuss what you learnt from watching the video

Simple machine scavenger hunt

– Simple Machines scavenger hunt cards (one per group). Adobe acrobat iconDownload the PDF here
– Pens/pencils
– Camera

Spot the Six Simple Machines

Now that you know about the six simple machines, you will start to see them everywhere!

  • · Give an example of a simple machine at home (e.g. tape dispenser includes a wheel and axle)
  • ·Give an example of a complex machine at home (e.g. stapler includes a lever and wedge)
  • ·Look for examples of each of the machines mentioned in the video
  • ·Record what you have found on your scavenger hunt cards. You can also record the machines you find by taking a photo of them
  • ·Share your findings with your teacher and class

Discussion Questions

· Which machines were the hardest to find?

· Which machines were the easiest?

· What are some of the more creative answers?

· Which object incorporated the largest number of simple machines?

DIY Catapults

– 1x Plastic spoons
– 6x Pop sticks
– 4x Rubber bands
– 1x soft object to launch (e.g. pompom, marshmallow)
– Tape
– Scissors
– Measuring tape or rulers

Making the catapults

A catapult is a type of lever that launches objects into the sky. Potential energy is quickly stored in the rubber bands and then released as kinetic energy to launch an object across the room.

Follow the instructions to make the catapults in small groups and experiment with them. If you don’t have the exact materials, don’t worry. You can substitute the materials you do have, be creative and use clothes pegs, hair ties, bottle tops, sticks, pencils etc.

step by step how to make a catapult with popsicle sticks and spoon
Step by Step instructions. How to make your DIY Catapult

Once the catapults are working, start experimenting! Make sure you measure and record your observations. Challenge the groups to improve on the basic design to increase the launching distance and height.

Discussion questions

· How far can you get your object to fly?

· How high can you get your object to fly?

· How does moving the spoon affect the flight of the object?

· Try adjusting the height by adding more popsicle sticks to the centre. What effect does this have on the flight path?

· Compare launching objects with different weights.

· How can you improve on this design?

Report Back

– Technology to record photos and movies

We love to hear from you:

· Send us drawings and photos of the simple machines you found.

· Send us videos of your catapults in action.


Rube Goldberg machine incorporating the six simple machines
How to make two types of pop stick catapult
AJ Hackett bungy jump catapult

This lesson plan is also available to share as Google Slides

This lesson plan is also available to download as a PDF Adobe acrobat icon

Download the Workbook here Word document icon – coming soon