Common Sense Review
Updated August 2015

Simple Machines by Tinybop

Excellent elementary NGSS engineering practices embedded in fun games
Common Sense Rating 4
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Figure out how Simple Machines work.
  • Play pinball with inclined planes.
  • Design bikes with different types of wheels.
  • Use a wedge to split up an iceberg.
  • Drag planes into the sky with pulleys.
Kids create and figure out simple machines on their own terms.
The app is short on tools to help kids analyze their observations.
Bottom Line
Fun gameplay lets kids explore important physics concepts in a solid standards-aligned context.
Emily Pohlonski
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Stellar gameplay will keep kids engaged and enthralled. Animations are strikingly beautiful and functional.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Kids are engineers as they design, build, test, and improve simple machines. Exploration is the name of the game: Kids have tons of force input options to manipulate, and tons of ways to learn basic physics concepts.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Both the app and the instruction manual are available in nine languages. Additional tools are needed to help kids ask questions and collect and analyze data.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Simple Machines is best used sandwiched between class discussions.  Prior to using the app, give a quick overview of simple machines, force, and work, then ask kids to look around the school for examples of these tools. While using the app, initially give kids time to explore and play without a lot of specific direction.  After some play, ask them notice what happens as they change the different input forces. When finished using the app, check in on student ideas.

Many students have the misconception that simple machines reduce the amount of force necessary to do work.  Use probing questions about input and output energy to help kids see that simple machines can only change the force necessary and that there is always a tradeoff. Actual levers are a great way to help kids see these trade-offs. A longer distance with a little force is exchanged for a shorter distance with less force.  Either way, it's the same amount of force.

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What's It Like?

Simple Machines lets kids manipulate tools and see how they help us do work.  They'll use a wedge to split up an iceberg, push a lever to destroy a castle, drag planes into the sky with pulleys, lift fish tanks with screws, play pinball with inclined planes, and bike through an obstacle course with a wheel and axle. Each step of the way, kids are changing variables to see how the machine reacts.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Kids will enjoy playing around with physics and will think it’s a game. They'll have so much fun playing pinball that they won’t realize they're learning about inclined planes. Simple Machines embodies the science and engineering practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards: It provides so many different ways for kids to change the tool and see what happens. They can alter the type of bike or scooter they're using and feel how hard they have to pedal with their fingers. They can compare which shape of wedge destroys their iceberg faster.

Simple Machines doesn't provide guidance to help kids analyze what happens. While this keeps the inquiry student-driven, some students will need additional coaching to get them to ask questions and examine their observations. Kids can move the slider to see helpful diagrams of the machines doing work. But they might need help understanding that the arrows show not just direction but also the strength of your force.

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See how teachers are using Simple Machines by Tinybop

Lesson Plans