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  • Writer's pictureMr. Broberg


Gideon's pulley meets the milk carton challenge.

When it came to the three Rs, I was a reasonably bright kid. Maybe not Seabury bright, but I earned my share of gold stars at Concord Elementary School in Seattle.

I did have one glaring weakness – two if you count my biceps. Wait. Does that add up to three?

OK. Back to my glaring weakness. I was totally flummoxed by the mechanical reasoning problems planted like booby traps in standardized tests.

The pulleys. So many pulleys. They haunt me to this day!

If only Concord had introduced me to the world of pulleys and such with hands-on experiences like the ones Seabury provided this fall during a unit called Simple Machines.

The unit revolved around individual kits of materials that our students used to build, tinker with and learn about the basic inventions – pulleys, levers, axles, etc. – that fueled the rise of civilization.

“I like to call it elementary school physics,” said Sheri Towne, who teaches first and second grades. Sheri joined Jennifer Meads, third grade, and Debra Owsley, fourth grade, in assembling the kits and working with their students -- in person and during distance learning – to discover, innovate and explore.

Gideon's blueprint.

Sheri started the unit with a scavenger hunt that involved searching the room for modern applications of simple machines. “The kids couldn’t recognize any,” she said. After completing the unit, her students all passed a Simple Machines test with flying colors.

The most rewarding moments, said Sheri, came when students shared their unique insights. After watching a video about Archimedes and his hypothesis that with a long enough lever he could move the earth, students had a spirited debate about whether that was possible.

One student said no because the sun would burn the lever. Another said yes, but it would require a lever that was a quadrillion light years long.

Back and forth the discussion went. No, because the earth is spinning. Yes, because the earth weighs less in space.

Wow! I never would have thought of any of that. If those responses got you thinking, check out The Mighty Mathematics of the Lever.

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