"One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar." ---Helen Keller

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Early Simple Machines LEGOs "Spinning Top"

One of my favorite things in our labs are the Early Simple Machine LEGO kits. They contain 8 building cards with a lesson attached and then 4 problem solving lessons that promote a free build. They are built around a 4 C model of teaching.

  • Connect - The teacher reads a very short story to present a problem that must be solved by the simple machine that the students build.
  • Construct - Students build following instructions on the building cards.
  • Contemplate - Students carry out the scientific investigation with their build.
  • Continue - Ideas for further study or investigation.

In the Spinning Tops lesson, the students listen to a story where two children are having fun spinning toy tops. However, they quickly fall over and their fingers are tired from all the spinning.  They must construct a launcher that make the tops spin longer. They use a building card to guide them.

Front of card.

Back of card.

After building there launcher, the students are asked to try it out a few times and get the hang of it.


After the students can launch it well, the question is presented for them to contemplate. The tops can work two ways... 

1) The yellow piece is on top and the red piece is on the bottom as pictured above. This means that the disc with the largest surface area is on the top and the disc with the smallest surface area is on the bottom.

2) The discs are reversed with the red on top and yellow on bottom changing the largest surface area to the bottom.

The students predict which they think will spin the longest. Then the practice begins with doing it both ways.

When the students have had ample practice, you call them altogether to discuss the results. We took Mrs. Leach's first grade class pictured in the examples out into the hallway and made two lines and then took one launcher and tested each of the tops multiple times and had a great discussion right out in the hallway. Fantastic class, Mrs. Leach!!! 

  • We talked about our predictions
  • why we would have to spin it multiple times
  • was it a fair test such as did we always turn the handle the same amount of times
  • was the surface the same or did the tops hit cracks in the floor.
Lots of things to consider. 

We then shared some research on the topic.
We found that to spin longer, the larger surface on the bottom works best because it has a lower center of gravity, but we found that the larger surface area on top spins faster. 

To extend the lesson, it suggest making a top with different shapes. I found a site that tells children how to make a top out of index card and a toothpick so that they could go home and try some more ideas.

As you can see, this was a fun lesson for the kids and opens up so many questions for the children to think about in science.

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