Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2015
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Simple Machines by Tinybop

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Excellent elementary NGSS engineering practices embedded in fun games

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Kids create and figure out simple machines on their own terms.

Cons: 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.

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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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.

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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

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?

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?

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.

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
James T. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Interactive, stylish, addicting, and educational!
Overall, this app is a great teaching tool. I love that through open-ended play, children get to explore the physics of motion that govern six basic machines. Its stylish approach easily attracts student attention, and its goals capture their curiosity. The game is simple to get up and running, and is easy for teachers to ask leading questions and get responses out of their students. Playing the game students will naturally begin to brainstorm, analyze evidence, create a hypothesis and finally make ...
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