Instructive destructive inquiry

That’s a strange title, isn’t it? How do you combine instructive, explorative inquiry with bored, restless seventh graders to maximum effect? Answer: Let them destroy things in the pursuit of learning.
Last week our kiddos finished up their unit on simple machines. I think I was nearly as exhausted as they were hearing about levers, pulleys, screws, inclined planes, wheels and axels and math-y applications (apologies, Math GK-12 fellows) such as efficiency and mechanical advantage. Boring! Learning about simple machines in textbooks and on worksheets is not nearly as fun as experiencing how they work in everyday objects. So, what to do? My teacher seriously impressed me with her simple, yet fantastic idea. She gave the kids screwdrivers, hammers, and pliers (and safety googles!) and let them loose on a bunch of hapless toys. Yes, toys. Everything from plastic action figures to toy slot machines to wind-up race cars. Here’s the formula for this super-fun lab:
Step 1: Hypothesize, in your group, what types of simple machines may be found hidden IN your toy that allow it to function the way it does.
Step 2: Unscrew, pry, or outright smash it open to get at the guts and see what’s there!
That’s it! What a fun lab! I had a blast watching my kids rip things apart and recognize how all the individual pieces function as a whole. Yeah, science!

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About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
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