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Back to Programs

Standard Lab: Force and Simple Machines (2nd-3rd)

Push and pull your way through this experiment! Discover how force affects motion and how simple machines make our lives easier. Register today!

Cost: $4 per student 

Standard labs are booked for a minimum of 15 students with a minimum price of $60.

Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations, Science v.1.09

  • Manipulate simple tools that aid observation and data collection (for example: hand lens, balance, ruler, meter stick, measuring cup, thermometer, spring scale, stop watch/timer). (S.IP.03.14)
  • Describe how a push or a pull is a force. (P.FM.03.35)
  • Demonstrate how the change in motion of an object is related to the strength of the force acting upon the object and to the mass of the object. (P.FM.03.37)

Next Generation Science Standards

Students participating in this program will explore science content as stated in the Disciplinary Core Ideas. They will engage in science and engineering practices as they plan and conduct investigations to answer questions regarding force and simple machines.

PS2.A: Forces and Motion

  • Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
  • Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object’s speed or direction of motion. (Boundary: Qualitative and conceptual, but not quantitative addition of forces are used at this level.)

PS2.B: Types of Interactions

  • When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.
  • Objects in contact exert forces on each other.

PS3.C: Relationship Between Energy and Forces

  • A bigger push or pull makes things speed up or slow down more quickly.

Force and Simple Machines Pre-visit Materials

During Your Visit to the ScienceWorks Lab students will be expected to:

  • Sit in tables of 6 students and (at least) 1 adult
  • Students should be prepared to give their attention to the Lab instructors when requested to “Give Me Five”
  • Work cooperatively with one another at the table
  • Follow the hands-on procedures just as the Lab teacher or assistant explains them
  • Handle materials and equipment carefully

It is important that teachers and chaperones:

  • Help to focus the students’ attention
  • Assist students with the hands-on activities and experiments when necessary
  • Turn off cell phones and pagers during the class


Distance: Distance is the measurable amount that something travels.

Energy: Energy is the capacity for doing work. Some forms of energy are light, heat and electricity.

Effort: Effort is the energy a person puts into making a machine work.

Force: A force is a push or a pull. Force is anything that causes something to move.

Fulcrum: A fulcrum is the place where a lever turns. On a teeter-totter, the fulcrum is the bar in the middle that holds the board that you sit on.

Inclined Plane: An inclined plane is a simple machine shaped like a ramp.

Lever: A lever is a simple machine made of a stiff bar that pivots (or turns) on a support called a fulcrum.

Load: A load is whatever is being moved by a simple machine.

Machine: A machine is a device that does work. Machines do not change the amount of work done, but they do make it easier.

Mechanical Advantage (MA): Mechanical advantage is the amount of help that using a simple machine provides.

Pivot: To pivot is to turn. A lever works by pivoting on a fulcrum to move a load.

Simple Machine: A simple machine is any object that makes work easier by trading force for distance. Simple machines conserve energy, or make work easier, but there is a tradeoff. If you use a simple machine, you don’t have to use as much effort to move something, but you have to push or pull over a longer distance.

Spring Scale: A spring scale is a scale that measures the amount of force being used on something by measuring the amount that a spring is being stretched.

Work: Work is moving something across a distance.

Force and Simple Machines Post-visit Activity: Machine Mobiles

Post-visit activities will help reiterate new concepts and tie the ScienceWorks Lab experience to your classroom curriculum. Below you will find a classroom activity and a list of suggested resources for further information. We hope that you enjoyed your field trip. Visit us again!


This activity is not only an art project, but illustrates the concept of a first class lever as well. Remember, a first class lever is a lever with the fulcrum located in the middle, between the load and the force being applied. Teeter-totters and scales are first class levers. A first class lever is in balance when the load is equal on either side of the fulcrum — just what you need to create a mobile!

This is a great cooperative learning opportunity since students will need assistance from one another when it comes to tying the thread to the wire and balancing the mobiles.


Many of the items listed below can be shared by students during the activity. However, each student will need their own machine pictures and a wire hanger

  • Clear tape
  • Crayons
  • Pictures of models of machines (draw your own or use those provided)
  • Poster board
  • Thread
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire hangers (one per student)


  1. Draw color and cut out 4 machines using poster board. Or, use the pictures provided and glue them to poster board.
  2. Cut the hangers into 3 pieces – 1 short, 1 medium and 1 long, straight piece. Throw the rest of the hanger away. (The best way to do this may be to have the teacher go around the room with wire cutters while the students are working on their machines).
  3. Tape a piece of thread about 6-8 inches long to the approximate top and middle of each machine.
  4. Tie a machine to one end of shortest wire. Tie another machine to the other end of that wire. Every time you make a knot, be sure to wrap the thread around the wire about 3 times before making a double knot.
  5. Tie one machine each to the ends of the two other wires.
  6. Begin assembling the mobile from the bottom up. Each mobile will need 3 more pieces of thread about 6-12 inches long. Tie one of the pieces of thread to the point you predict will balance the shortest wire. Hold the short wire with its two machines up by this thread and see if it balances. Slide the knot back and forth until it does.
  7. Tie the loose end of this thread tightly to the free end (the end without a machine tied to it) of the middle-length wire. Take another loose piece of thread and tie it tightly to this medium-length wire, just about where you think it will balance (balancing it in the tip of your finger might help you to find the right spot). Tie the loose end of that thread tightly to the free end of the longest wire.
  8. Use your last piece of loose thread to hang the mobile by tying it to the balance point of the longest wire.
  9. Have a friend help you to balance the whole mobile by having your partner hold it up while you carefully slide the knots back and forth to make it balance. Always start from the bottom and work up!
  10. If your knots slide around a lot, try putting a very small piece of tape over them.
  11. Hang your mobile up and enjoy!

Suggested Resources


Battcher, D., Erickson, S., Martini, K., Rogers, C., Shennan, W. and Wiebe, A. Machine Shop. AIMS Education Foundation, Fresno, CA. 1993.
Dahl, Michael. Inclined Planes. Bridgestone Books, Mankato, MN. 1996.
Dahl, Michael. Levers. Bridgestone Books, Mankato, MN. 1996.
Potter, Jean. Science in Seconds for Kids. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York. 1995.
St. Andre, Ralph. Simple Machines Made Simple. Teacher Ideas Press, Englewood, CO. 1993.
Tolman, Marvin N. Hands-On Physical Science Activities for Grades 2-8. Parker Publishing Company, Inc., NY. 1995.
West, David. Wheels, Pulleys and Levers. Shooting Star Press, New York. 1993.


Standard Lab: Force and Simple Machines (2nd-3rd)



50 minutes

K-2nd, 3-5th

20, 30, 60, 100

Physical Sciences

Still not sure we have the experience you want?

Visit unityinlearning.org to open a gateway to hands-on discovery, exploration of the natural world, and experiences that take flight.

Through the Unity in Learning partnership with the Ann Arbor Hands-On MuseumLeslie Science and Nature Center, and Yankee Air Museum we provide over 100 different  programs at our facilities, on site at your location, or through interactive video conferencing.