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Simple Machines by Tinybop
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.
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.