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Playground Physics

Swing high! Slide fast! Head for the seesaw with a friend. Learn how playground equipment works, then create a colorful model with simple machines.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Simple machines make work easier. Loading heavy boxes is hard work, but an inclined plane or ramp makes the job less difficult. Levers, which are unbendable surfaces, work with a pivot or fulcrum to help lift heavy loads. A pulley also makes loads easier to lift. Wedges ease the job of prying materials apart. Scissors, pins, and nails are examples of wedges. A screw is a wedge and an inclined plane in spiral form. It helps to hold two surfaces together. Wheels and axles aid in moving people, animals, and objects.
    2. Invite students to research more about simple machines, then visit a playground to find examples of how these machines work. Find a lever with a fulcrum that helps balance and lift you and a friend. Do you see an inclined plane? Notice the pulley you use to raise and lower the flag. Is there a wheel and axle somewhere on the playground? Students sketch the playground with Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils to show the simple machines found.
    3. Students use their imaginations to design playground equipment to reflect their personalities. This can be done individually or in small groups. Encourage students to include at least two simple machines in the design. Here’s one way to make a pinwheel slide (wheel and axle and inclined plane).
    4. Decorate paper. Use Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils to decorate a strip of paper for a slide. Make bright blocks and stripes of color. Erase to create dotted, spiral, zigzag, circle, striped, and plaid patterns.
    5. Fold the slide. Use Crayola Scissors to cut the strip into one short and one longer piece. Fold and bend the long strip into a sliding board. Cut the shorter strip to create ladder steps, a platform, and protective sides. Use Crayola School Glue to attach steps, creating a ladder for the back of the slide. Glue sides to the inclined plane. Air-dry your slide.
    6. Create a playhouse. Glue multicolored strips of more decorated paper, tissue paper, or ribbon along the sides of the inclined plane to form a playhouse area under the slide. Cut, bend, and glue chenille sticks to form railings for the steps and top platform. Air-dry your structure.
    7. Make tiny pinwheels. Cut small squares of paper. Cut a diagonal slit from each corner toward the center of the square. Leave an uncut area in the middle. Carefully bend and glue the tip of each section to the middle of the square. Cut and glue a tiny paper circle to the center of each pinwheel. Glue pinwheels to the top platform railings. Air-dry the glue.
    8. Display imaginative playgrounds. Can classmates identify the simple machines in each other’s constructions?
  • Standards

    LA: Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.

    MATH: Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.

    MATH: Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Represent measurement quantities using diagrams such as number line diagrams that feature a measurement scale.

    MATH: Recognize angles as geometric shapes that are formed wherever two rays share a common endpoint, and understand concepts of angle measurement.

    SCI: Investigate the motion of objects to determine observable and measurable patterns to predict future motions.

    SCI: Investigate the motion of objects by comparing the relative sizes and direction of forces on an object at rest to the forces on an object whose motion is changing.

    SCI: Investigate the push-and-pull forces between objects not in contact with one another.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

    VA: Integrate visual, spatial, and temporal concepts with content to communicate intended meaning in artworks.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Simple Machines by Deborah Hodge; Simple Machines: Forces in Action by Buffy Silverman

    Students investigate the life and work of Rube Goldberg. He drew contraptions that make simple tasks into difficult and complicated ones. Review and research some of his cartoons, try drawing your own Rube Goldberg machine. Will it turn off an alarm clock? Swat a fly? Pet a dog? Think about other simple activities that can be made more difficult.

    A compound machine contains two or more simple machines. Create a whole-class cooperative compound machine on large mural paper. Start with one student's drawing of a simple machine. Pass the paper to the next student who attaches another simple machine to the first one. Continue until everyone has contributed a simple machine to the top, bottom, or sides of the group-designed compound machine. Display the final product for all to view and figure out.

    Students work in small groups to design a playground of their dreams. What equipment will you want on the playground? How much open space will you need? What types of materials will you want used in the equipment? What companies carry the products on your wish list? How much will your playground cost to build? What will be required for upkeep?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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