E&R Unit 8: Simple Machines

Introduction to the 6 Simple Machines


Engineering is often defined as “Using math and science to solve problems and make the world a better place”.  Part of the math and science we need to understand involves some basic physics.  We’ll start with the 6 Simple Machines:

  • Lever, wedge, screw, pulley, inclined plane, wheel and axle

For this unit, we’ll start by looking through some information about each of the 6 simple machines and taking some notes.  We’ll find simple machines around the room, and then identify some complex machines.  We’ll look at some standard engineering machines as well as the complex machines in our lab.  Finally, we’ll tackle the Rube Goldberg Design Challenge!

  1. Learn about simple machines and complete a scavenger hunt
  2. Learn about complex machines and identify key components
  3. Complete the Rube Goldberg Design Challenge using simple machines to make your own complex machine

When you’re done, you will have had the chance to see how different mechanical components come together to make working machines!  Now if you’re thinking carefully you’ll be able to use these same ideas in the construction of your robot.


(30 pts) About 3 days

Simple machines are the basic elements that create what’s called a “mechanical advantage”.  When a simple machine is in place, it allows something physical to be done more effectively and efficiently.  The 6 Simple Machines that will be discussed in this part are: lever, wedge, screw, pulley, inclined plane, wheel and axle.


(20 pts) About 3 days

A complex machine is made when multiple simple machines are put together to achieve a more complex task.  Our robots have been good examples of complex machines.  We’ll spend this time looking at a few common complex machines that mechanical engineers use. We’ll also look at how some of the larger machines in our makerspace are really just combinations of simple machines.


(20 pts) About 3 days

To combine the ideas about simple and complex machines, we’ll wrap things up with our official Rube Goldberg Design Challenge.  In this challenge, you and your team will need to create a Rube Goldberg device that uses at least 3 simple machines to keep a marble in the air for exactly 11 seconds.

Part 1: Simple Machines

Levers, wedges, screws, pulleys, inclined planes, and wheels with axles.
Simple Machines Overview
Simple Machines Equations
As we get started with simple machines, it’s important that we cover both the scientific and the mathematical principles.  To do this, we’ll take some notes from six short videos that summarize both the science and the math behind each machine.  Make sure you take careful notes.  Then use those notes to complete a written math assignment.  When that’s finished, complete a Simple Machines Brainstorm.


Take at least 2 pages of notes on the simple machines videos

 Complete the math assignment called “Simple Machines” – this could be homework if you want

Complete the Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your complete assignments.

Inclined Plane, Screw, Wedge
Wheels & Axles

What’s Due In Part 1: Simple Machines

  • Simple Machine Notes
  • “Simple Machines” Assignment
  • “Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt”
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Check-off
Here’s what’s due in Part 1: Simple Machines

  1. Notes on the 6 simple machines including both math and science topics
  2.  Complete the “Simple Machines” Assignment
  3. Complete the “Simple Machines Scavenger Hunt” Assignment
  4. Have Mr. Benshoof check-off your assignments

Part 2: Complex Machines

Gears, Claws, 4-Bar Linkage
Example Complex Machine Sketch
There are many ways to combine simple machines into more complex systems.  Mechanical engineers in particular work with complex machines regularly.  In this unit, you’ll investigate how simple machines combine to make 3 important complex machines function: gears, claws, and 4-bar linkages.  Then, you’ll identify one of our complex machines in the Makerspace, make a sketch, and identify the simple machines.


 Take notes in your engineering notebook on the videos of the three complex machines.

 Carefully sketch your chosen machine in the Makerspace and label all the simple machines you can find in it.

 Have Mr. Benshoof check-off your assignments.

4-Bar Linkage
Tree Transplanter

What’s due in Part 2: Complex Machines

  • Notes on Complex Machines
  • “Complex Machines” Assignment
  • Sketch & Labels
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Check-off
Here’s what’s due in Part 2: Complex Machines

  1. You should have made a full page of notes on complex machines from the videos.
  2. You should have made a careful sketch of one of our complex machines and labeled the simple machines within it.
  3. Have Mr. Benshoof check-off your work.

Part 3: Rube Goldberg Challenge

Work with your team to build a Rube Goldberg machine

Example Rube Goldberg Device

One of the most famous groups of complex machines are called “Rube Goldberg Machines”.  Created by an inventor and cartoonist named Rube Goldberg, these machines are designed to accomplish very simple task in a very complicated way.  Your job is to work with your team to create a Rube Goldberg machine that can keep a marble in motion for exactly 11 seconds.  You must use (and identify) at least three simple machines in your construction.


 Brainstorm, plan, and sketch the plans for a Rube Goldberg machine with your team.

 Build your Rube Goldberg machine following the design brief.

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your machine’s success rate out of 5 runs.

What’s Due In Part 3: Rube Goldberg Challenge

  • Engineering Notebook
  • Rube Goldberg Machine
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Confirmation
Here’s what’s due in Part 3: Rube Goldberg Challenge

  1.  You should have notes, ideas, plans, and drawings from your team’s work.
  2. You should have a Rube Goldberg machine that fits the design brief and is as reliable as possible!
  3. Mr. Benshoof should confirm your machine’s success rate out of 5 trials.

Double Check: Unit Expectations

Check what you need to have completed by the unit deadline
The purpose of this unit is to share with you some of the mathematics and science behind the mechanics of our engineering work.  The more we understand how things work, the better we can put them to good use in our own projects.  By the end you should be able to identify the 6 simple machines as well as describe some of the math behind them.  You should also be able to identify a complex machine and point out the simple components inside it.  Finally, you will have built a fun device and looked at levels of variability.

Engineering Notebook:

(Part 1) You should have good notes on all 6 simple machines.

 (Part 2) You should have good notes on the three complex machines plus the labeled drawing of one of our lab’s complex machines.

(Part 3) You should have good notes and sketches from your team’s Rube Goldberg work.

Building & Making:

(Part 1) You should have completed both the “Simple Machines” assignment & the Simple Machines Brainstorm (Part 2) You should have completed the “Complex Machines” assignment. (Part 3) You should have built your Rube Goldberg Machine with your team.

Benshoof Checkpoints:

(Part 1) You should have Mr. Benshoof check-off your work on simple machines.

(Part 2) You should have Mr. Benshoof check-off your work on complex machines.

 (Part 3) Mr. Benshoof should have confirmed your machine’s success on all 5 trials.