Ms. Thomas, 3rd-grade teacher at Hatch, rubbed her hands together. She asked
her students why her hands scrape against each other and why they get warm and
fatigued as she rubbed. Ms. Thomas was demonstrating the concept of friction and the
students were soon going to experiment with how to reduce friction to make work easier
using . . . LEGOs.
Like all District 97 third graders, these students at Hatch were using LEGOs to build
simple machines as part of OPEF’s Geared Up program. Constructing everything
from simple levers to more complicated fly-wheels, students have had the chance
to experiment with how these machines are constructed and why they work. In Ms.
Thomas’ class on this February afternoon, the kids were building wheels and axles and
in the process learning how wheels reduce friction to make work, and life, a lot easier!
The Geared Up program complements the 3rd graders’ DeltaScience unit on Force
and Motion. As Lena B. explained, they were working with the LEGOs “to learn more
about simple machines and how we use them, like when we drive we wouldn’t be able
to move without them.”
Understanding the relevance of what they are learning in science and with Geared Up,
Zeevie D. pointed out that they are “fixing the church across the street [from Hatch] and
they are using levers to pick things up so they don’t have to carry them up.”
By experimenting with different size wheels and axles, the students see what works and
what doesn’t, why our simple machines are built the way they are. Rees V. was working
with his partner on their wheel and axle model. He discovered that by “switching out
the shorter axle for a longer one it is easier to turn.”
In another experiment, Kennedy O. observed that the addition of one small piece to the
axle allowed the wheels to run more smoothly because with it the wheels and axle turn
The class as a whole discussed their findings near the end of the session. One student
noted the relationship that they started the class with, that between friction and the
wheels: It would take more energy and more time to move a load without the wheels
and axles helping to do the work.
When asked why they were getting to play with LEGOs in school, Rees V. said, “So we
can learn how to build harder, better machines when we get older.”