Simple Machines

Jonathan Leavitt
Ron Pettis
Johnnie Perry

| Instructional Objective | Learners & Context | Object of Game | Game Materials |

| Time Required | Rules | Design Process | References |

Instructional Objective

Students will review knowledge of simple machines and their uses. They will also apply these understandings through constructing solutions to real-world problems that incorporate simple machines.

Learners & Context of Use

This game is deigned for students in grades three-five. Typically, children at this level range in age from 8-12 years old. They enjoy competition and hands-on activities.

Simple Machines could be played multiple times once students acquire an understanding of the six basic simple machines and their uses.

Object of the Game

The object of the Simple Machines Game is to be the first to collect all six simple machine pieces and then complete the final challenge build

Game Materials


Player tokens

Chance cards

Build cards

Trivia cards



Simple Machines building kits

Simple Machines tokens to be collected once the associated thread of the board is complete

  • See reference area for the website to obtain a kit that we found was appropriate.

Time Required

Set-up time would be about 5 minutes and game length would average around one hour.

The Rules

1. Each player/team selects a token to move around the board. All tokens are placed in the center hexagon.

2. Each team rolls one of the dice and the highest number determines which player/team goes first.

3. To start a turn: A team rolls the dice and decides which path they want to slide down. Once they slide down the thread, they move clockwise the number of spaces that they rolled.

4. There are three space a player/team can land on:
a. Chance - Draw the card and follow its directions.
b. Trivia- Draw a card and have the other team read it to you. Answer correctly and you get to roll again. Answer incorrectly and your turn is over.
c. Build - All teams participate in this round and build a solution for the card. Participants determine whose solution is the most unique and this player/team is awarded 3 free spaces. Other teams are awarded one free space. Play resumes with the next team rolling.

5. Each team must move up each thread of the screw game board. Once a team successfully reaches the center of the board, they earn a simple machine piece. After earning the piece, they slide back down the same thread and proceed to the next thread that they need.

6. Once a team collects the sixth simple machine piece, they must successfully complete a final build card.


I thought of the activities of using simple machines to do work that saves expenditure of force by people in way that made the ideas tangible for kids, that is, using the tools. I thought of other activities such as how about vocabulary cards: words such as fulcrum, etc. word on one side, answer on the other. One side could draw and ask the other side and if not answered they lose their next turn.


After we formed the Simple Machines Trivia (SMT) group, I needed to get my head around what the content encompassed, what the learners would need to know to play the game, and what we might do to support the mental models of the content. I knew that I would need to do some research on the web, with my 2-5 grade teachers, and from our texts. I saw that we had a keen ability to support the different types of knowledge (facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles) - and this excited me to no end. In designing the game appropriately, I hoped that we could build upon near transfer to achieve far transfer in the application of simple machines (SM). I was happy to do the graphics for our group - this I can do.


Before we formed our group, I was brainstorming many ideas and just trying to come up with something that connected to my taeching. I also wanted a game that would excite and challenge kids. The simple machines game came to mind and I started to brainstorm all of the interactive ways that this game could be developed. I looked over our county website and noticed that the Science standards encourgaed problem solving and hand-on science. Once I got positive feedback from classmates, I knew that I was on to a good idea.

How did you enhance your ideas?


By discussing with group and by working out the activities by word and simulation.


After talking with my partners, I did an exhaustive research on educational games and SM, and I searched for references of SM simulations. I read loads of pages on pulleys, incline planes, screws, wedges, wheel and axles, and levers. I even played with these versions of these SM that I found in my garage and in our science lab. I talked to our second and third grade teachers about SM and the problems students have with this content area.


A lot of discussion with my teammates enabled us to refine our idea and bring it into focus. We did this through text chat and conference calls.

What ideas did you consider and reject (and why?).


At first I considered larger simple tools for use in game, but that became clear was too cumbersome and more like a lab activity than a game. In looking for what was available to use of a smaller scale, I found a simple games activity kit intended for grades 4-6 science activities that seemed ideal and opted for that.


We wanted to include concrete examples of the SM's within the game play. With the use of these models or scaled down versions of SM, we felt that the players would be able to visualize applications that used these SM's. I pondered three different types of game boards, but we finally decided on a board that resembled on of the SM's - a tip of a screw. The two other boards had elements that we felt would detract from the information acquisition and knowledge application of the game - one board had two concentric circles that intersected and the other was a race path that elevated as the players advanced (3D).


The rules and game play consumed a lot of my time. I particularly struggled with how to organize the build challenges. At first I thought about having only one team build at a time and having the others watch. Then, after some conversation, I realized that it would make more sense to have all teams building at once. I realized that this format would engage all players equally and drive towards the goal of the game which is a review of simple machines.

How did you gather background information?


I did an advanced google search using the "exact phrase" "simple machines". The results of the search were very helpful and were relatively concise in number.


I got to use Ron's great Google search on SM's. I also did my own search on the different types of SM's, SM games, and SM simulations. I found and read lesson plans that focused on SM's. I also looked at second grade curriculum that covered SM's in the classroom. I found three books in out library on SM's.


I used some links of my own that I've used while teaching simple machines to third graders. I also looked at some of the links taht Ron found in his Google search.

What did you do to see if there are similar games out there?


The above search and general google search of "simple machines turned up some online game activities, but mostly what were classroom type science activities involving simple machines.


I first checked out our Cardboard Cognition, but did not find a reference to SM's; however, Ron and I felt that one or two of the science games had promising elements that we could use. Did a serious search on the web, and did not find a SM board or card game - one could be designed! I did find a few online SM simulated activities - not simulations.

Here are a few:



I also used the links from Ron and then after talking with my team, realized that there weren't many games that were similar in content or form to the one that we were developing.

What did you do to get feedback on the idea?

We presented the idea to the class during our chats and recieved a lot of good ideas from classmates. We also discussed it with colleagues and discussed it within our group.

How did you flesh out the game to the point of having a playable prototype?

Jonathan finalized a rough draft of the game rules and instructions. Johnnie created a black and white model of our game board. Ron took the files that we sent him, and he printed them to present to the face-to-face class.

How did you gather feedback from that?

Ron (our face-to-face member) brought a simple and rough example of our game with cannibalized parts from other games into the 670 classroom. He received excellent feedback on our design and its playability - it is hard to believe that it had any playability. After Ron formatted the feedback, he emailed it to all the members of our group. We met in the EdChat site and discussed the results. We narrowed down the remarks and address fixable areas of our game - we had many. We then made plans on what to do and we divvied up the jobs.

What lessons did you learn from this that you'll carry to your next game design project?


The importance and validity of coming up with a swarm of ideas as a group, paring those ideas and then putting the survivors to work became clear during the process. Getting working input from others on the product was extremely helpful. I think the proof is in the doing these steps and that makes me want to carry this process forward to a next game design project.


Test, Test, Test. I would want to use a few small focus groups to test out our cards, the playability of the board, and then I would like to know the feeling of the players as they moved through the different stages of the game. Maybe, a small video of the players and the game play would also be beneficial. What have I learned to carry forward? Work hard on making it challenging, fun, and meaningful.


I think that it is extremely important to have teammates to work with and bounce ideas off of. WIthout the creative ideas of te other members of my team, I am not surethat the Simple Machines game would have come out as well as it has. I also understand that game designing is a long process that involves a lot of reflection, testing and collaboration.


Books & Journals

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Last updated October 17, 2004