simple machines lesson

Mimi Odgers, a student teacher, discussed the lesson she created on simple machines. Her intention was to integrate the visual arts into the science curriculum.

In the following examples from her lesson, 2nd graders use the process of line-printing to practice creating levers, inclined planes, gears, wheels and pulleys.

Star-making factory by Adrienne, age 8

Learning Objectives:

When students create simple and complex machines they develop and practice

  • Awareness and understanding of different kinds of simple machines
  • Inventing ways to print a machine
  • Unique ways to use the line tools to create the parts that they need
  • A beginning understanding of the conversion of energy through machines

Smith College graduate student, Mimi Odgers ,developed this integrated art unit with Mrs. Hanno’s 2nd grade class at Bridge Street  School in Northampton, MA


Practice Simple Machines

Identify, define and discuss strategies for constructing simple machines using the line printing tools. Try creating levers, pulleys, gears, inclined planes, wedge, screw, wheel and axle …

Can you identify the simple machines in these practice prints?

Landon practices
Landon, age 8
Libby practices
Libby, age 8
Xiao Ping practice
Xiao Ping, age 8
Adrienne practice
Adrienne, age 8

Invent a Complex Machine

Create a complex machine by combining two or more “simple machines.”

  • Brainstorm ideas for complex machines to create. Water transporter, cookie factory and rock catapult were ideas suggested by a group of second graders.
  • Experiment on practice paper first to refine your idea.
  • Then try another print. Your idea might change!

*It is the children’s explanations , and the descriptive language that they use, that make these machines come alive. Try to have a parent or helper in the room to record explanations. Initial ideas often work out the best, so try to save practice prints.

Eli practice
practice print of a baseball factory by Eli, age 8

Jefferson practice
practice print by Jefferson, age 8

The Box Crane
The Box Crane, by Eli

The Crusher by Jefferson
The Crusher, by Jefferson


Students are usually eager to share ideas about the machines that they are inventing.

Consider asking students to write a name for their machine and a sentence or paragraph describing :

  • the simple machines within the construction
  • the function of the machine
  • how the machine works

Cookie Machine by Landon, age 8
Cookie Machine by Landon, age 8


Bicycles, cars, trains, and trucks often emerge from line printing explorations. A group of sixth-graders interested in machines started looking at the evolution of the car. Their teacher photographed cars from different time periods and from different points of view. He also made magazine photos of cars available for children to study.

car back view by Doug
Car (back view) by Doug, age 12

Beetle by Maureen
Beetle by Maureen, age 12

Massachusetts license plate by Sam
Massachusetts license plate by Sam, age 12

roadster by Ingrid
Roadster by Ingrid, age 12

These prints were created by students in Bob Hepner’s 6th grade studio art class.