Welcome to the machine age!

Welcome to the machine age!


Our modern world works only because of machines. In our latest MYP unit, students are exploring the six types of simple machine to understand how they change the direction and magnitude of forces, and how simple machines are then built up into more come, compound machines.

IMG_7251Using simple machines to generate inquiry and explore their characteristics with lab work is really good for producing authentic data which can be processed and presented.

It allows students to question the veracity of data and to develop their decision-making (for instance when drawing lines of best-fit on charts) and thereby move that bit further towards mastery of their ATL skills. ATL skills are trans-disciplinary and enable our students to develop as life-long students – part of both our QAIS Mission Statements and the IB Mission Statement.



Last week we explored the use of inclined planes (or ramps) to reduce the effort in lifting blocks by measuring the extension in rubber bands, and then how sections of drinking straws (simulating logs) could be used to reduce friction. We believe ramps and rollers (along with sleds and other devices to reduce friction) were used in building Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids and the Great Wall. The ramp is an incredibly effective machine and has been known and used for at least 7,000 years.


Photograph of the ancient monument Stonehenge, England

This week, after looking at classes of lever and turning forces we turned to applications of levers to create very sensitive balances.

The digital electronic balances in our lab cost upwards of 3000 RMB and are sensitive to 0.01g. Using a simple lever as a micro-balance, we were able to measure a mass of between 0.001 – 0.002 g for less than 3 RMB!

It really challenged student fine-motor skills and patience, but then challenges are something that we rise to at QAIS!



After the Spring Festival, we will look at other simple machines including the screw, pulley system and wheel and axle.

As a celebration of what we know, we will also design a class Rube Goldberg machine using our imagination and our understanding of the science behind these simple machines. Rube Goldberg was the creator of over-complicated devices and is best known in the United States, but there are other contemporary designers including W. Heath Robinson from the UK, and P. Storm from Denmark. You can see a Rube Goldberg machine in action in this SoKu music video by OK Go.

Happy New Year everyone!


Please be particularly careful if you are celebrating with fireworks and keep your pets indoors and safe




[Image of Stonehenge from thegarethwiscombe used under Creative Commons licence, and Rube Goldberg machine drawing from Wikimedia Commons]



Rube Goldberg Machine