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The Toymaker's Challenge

Creativity and fun erupt as students use their knowledge of simple machines to build toys!

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Ask students what they have heard about the invention of the wheel. Why was that important? How did it change civilization?
    2. Discuss other simple machines: the lever, the pulley, the wedge, the screw, and the inclined plane. Encourage students to think about how these simple machines do work by using a force to cause motion. Ask volunteers to suggest specific examples. The pulley, for example, helps us lift heavy objects. The slide is an example of an inclined plane; so is a marble shoot.
    3. Can students think of examples of compound machines, ones that use a combination of several different simple machines?
    4. Discuss how people have been using various combinations of simple machines for years to help them do work and create fascinating toys. Invite students to enter a toymakers’ challenge by using their imaginations and a variety of recycled materials to create toys that incorporate one or more of the six simple machines.
    5. Once students have designed their toys, remind them that children are attracted to a toy not only because of what it does, but also because of how it looks. Discuss the visual appearance of toys. What colors or color combinations seem to have the most appeal? What other visual elements attract a child’s attention? Provide an assortment of Crayola products and encourage students to add color and visual appeal to their creations.
    6. When all toys are finished, stage a “toy convention.” Invite students to demonstrate their creations and explain how and why they engineered them the way they did.
  • Standards

    LA: Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal precise actions, emotions, or states of being and that are basic to a particular topic.

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

    SCI: Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.

    SCI: Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object. SCI: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students demonstrate an understanding that creative thinking and artmaking skills transfer to many aspects of life.

    VA: Art communicates about and helps viewers understand the natural and constructed world.

  • Adaptations

    Invite students from other classes to attend the toy convention.

    Those students who are particularly interested in toy making might enjoy making toys to give away at holiday time. If so, discuss safety issues with them so that nothing with small parts is given to a child younger than age three.

    Many vintage toys were simple creations whose appeal depended on simple machines. Some students may have toys at home modeled on these concepts. Toy vehicles, the limber jack, dolls with moving eyes or jaws, and music boxes are all good examples. Invite students to bring in toys they feel incorporate these concepts and create a temporary toy museum.


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