The Simplest of Machines

I can’t stop thinking about a question I heard from a parent this week: My son says stairs are a machine?

Hmmm.  It is interesting to me to hear how science gets taken home.  I did say that in class.  We are getting into a new physical science unit in Grade 1, and to get everyone excited we talked about what a machine is.

Like a laundry machine? asked one student.

Sure! I said.  And let’s think about a laundry machine… what does it help us do?


Yes, it does!  And if it weren’t for that machine I’d have to do that laundry in a tub and I’d have to scrub each bit of clothing until it was all clean and then I’d have to hang each piece up to dry, which would take several hours.  That is certainly a lot of work!

Let’s think about this: A laundry machine helps us do work, right?  And we can do that work two ways (or more).  Which would you rather do?  If you answered: Use the laundry machine- you are not alone.  With a machine like that work is much easier, and that’s just what simple machines do- they make work easier!

The trick is: There are lots of things we have all around us that make work easier.  Take the stairs, for example.  If we had to get from the upper level of school to the lower level of school by jumping the whole distance at once from the balcony we would have a hard time staying in session as a school because we would have serious injuries every day.  To make the work of getting up and down easier, we use an incredible simple machine called stairs: small little steps that gradually make their way to the lower level of campus.  That simple machine is called an inclined plane.  Just like the ramp you might use to wheel something uphill rather than lifting it, or the slide on the big toy that helps make easy work of playing: inclined planes are all around us and they help out a lot!

Scissors? Door knobs? Wheels? Ladders?  They are all simple machines!  Simple machines help turn tasks that would be time consuming and worrisome into tasks we barely think about.  Maybe just once this next week, notice yourself on some stairs or a ladder or a ramp and think to yourself- I’m so glad I didn’t have to pack my parachute or find my climbing shoes this morning just to get from one level to the next!  I know I will.


2 thoughts on “The Simplest of Machines

  1. It is not exactly the dictionary definition but your description is useful in that it defines it as something physical that assists us in completing a task. I like it!

    • The Dictionary definition of a Simple Machine is:
      any of the basic mechanical devices for applying a force, such as an inclined plane, wedge, or lever.

      So it does follow the dictionary definition, and, you are correct- is not the same as a plain old “machine” which is defined as:
      an apparatus using or applying mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task

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