AS THE WHEEL TURNS
Grades 4 - 8
During prehistoric times, people did not have wheels and
as we know them today. The earliest wheels date back to about 3500 B.C.
They were fastened solidly to their axles so wheel and axle moved
However, over the course of time, innovative thinking transformed the
into a very useful machine - from the basic cart and chariot to door
pencil sharpeners and steering wheels. The wheel has helped change the
of history. This lesson is an introduction to the concept of simple
and how they are used to make work easier. It covers wheels and axles and
the pulley. The video segments of this lesson explain ho wheels and
work and their direct relationship to distance and force. The viewing and
post-viewing activities will bring the ideas from the video segments into
concrete, hands-on explorations of the everyday world of simple machines.
This lesson will take approximately 3 40-minute class
Eureka! - "Unit 2: Simple Machines, Programs
Bill Nye, The Science Guy - "Simple Machines"
Students will be able to:
- define the term wheel and axle;
- define pulley;
- define single-fixed pulley;
- define moveable pulley.
- toys that use pulleys or wheels such as model sailboat, steam
- car, Hook & Ladder truck, a yo-yo or skateboard
- different types of pulleys
- child's bicycle
- exercise equipment
- small wheels
Per group of three or four students:
- old magazines
- three pencils
- 4-foot (approximately 1m 6cm) long board
- flat, heavy rock or brick (small enough for a rubber band to fit
- junk mail
- 6-inch (20 cm) piece of heavy string
- screw hook
- construction paper
- heavy rubber band
- several yards (meters) of heavy string
- heavy book
- axle - a rod on or with which a wheel revolves
- wheel- a solid disk, or a circular frame connected by spokes
to a central hub, capable of turning on a central axis and used to move
vehicles or transmit power in machinery
- fulcrum - the point of support on which a lever turns in
or moving something
- pulley - w heel with a groove between its edges that holds
a wire or rope
- single-fixed pulley - one pulley attached to
- single-moveable pulley - one pulley that is attached to a
or rope in such a manner as to be able to move with the wire or rope
- gear - a system of two or more toothed wheels meshed
so that the motion of one is passed on to the others
Bring in several toys that have wheels or pulleys. Some
may have some from home. Have students identify the parts of the toys
help them to move or perform some other task. See if they can identify
Ask them how they think simple machines cause movement.
Set up a pulley and line across the classroom. Discuss with students
they may have seen something like this used (e.g. clothesline, sailboats,
movies companies lifting furniture, etc.)
Have students design a bookbag that will move effortlessly on wheels.
can use a skateboard in their design.
Have students make a list of machines that use wheels and pulleys that
have seen in their homes.
Create an invention time line.
Bring in a child's bicycle and have students try to identify not only the
wheels, but the gears and the pulleys and what their purpose might
Bring in simple exercise equipment that uses wheels or pulleys to make
harder in order to stretch specific muscles.
Review with students a lever and how it works.
To give students a specific task and engage their viewing attention, hand
out the attached sheet labeled "Focus for Viewing 1" and tell
students that they must answer the questions as they are watching the
To give the students a specific task an engage their viewing attention,
hand out the attached sheet entitled, "Focus for Viewing 2,"
tell students that they must answer the questions on the sheets as they
are watching the following segment.
To give the student a specific task and engage their viewing attention,
hand out the attach sheet labeled "Focus for Viewing 3" and
students answer questions as they watch the next segment.
To give the student a specific task and engage their viewing attention,
hand out the attached sheet labeled "Focus for Viewing 4," and
tell students that they must answer the questions as they watch the
Set the memory unction of your remote/VCR, or set the counter to 000 at
the beginning of "Eureka!", episode 14, entitled "The
and the Wheel." FAST FORWARD to the beginning of
15, "The Pulley." PLAY the review section of the video
entitled "The Story So Far," PAUSING after each of the
groups of words to discuss vocabulary and concepts (see attached handout
labeled "The Story So Far"). Press MEMORY
and wait for tape to complete its cycle. FAST FORWARD to
the phrase "The Screw" is on the screen. Push PLAY and
continue to end of segment. STOP; eject the tape and insert the
Nye, the Science Guy" program.
FAST FORWARD to the first section of the Bill Nye tape
Following" and PLAY. Push PAUSE when you see Bill Nye
coming down the fire pole. Take a few minutes to allow students to jot
the answers for the handout. Eject the tape and insert he
FAST FORWARD to the beginning of "Eureka!"
15. STOP where you see "600 N" on the pulley ropes and you hear
the words, "This piece of rope supporting 600 N." EJECT
the tape and insert the "Bill Nye" program.
FAST FORWARD the Bill Nye program until you see the words
"Way Cool Scientist" on screen. PLAY. STOP when
the words "Tour de Science 93" appear on screen. FAST
to "Hey, look at this!"; PLAY to the end. STOP
Discuss the concept of force and distance when used to describe simple
Show students that with a simple machine force is reduced but the
over which the force must be applied increases. This is an inverse
As one variable increases, the other decreases. Explain the phrase used
int he Bill Nye video, "Long is lazy and Short is serious
Have students build and experiment using a pulley. Screw a hook into a
long board. Hang a spool from the hook using heavy string. Attach the
tot he string. Thread the extra string around the spool. Place the board
across the backs of two chairs and pull on the string to life the
What happens when students pull the string?
How does the pulley help to decrease the force?
Have the students think of other ways pulleys could be used to make work
Direct students to build and experiment using a simple wheel design.
a rubber Band around the flat heavy rock. Put one end of a 6-inch piece
of heavy string through the rubber band and make a loop large enough for
a finger to fit through. Have a student put the rock on the floor and try
to pull the rock toward the with their finger. Is it easy to pull?
Place three pencils under the rock. Direct students to put their finger
through loop and pull the rock again. Is the rock easier or harder to
this time? Why is one way of pulling the rock easier than the other?
Have students design different shapes of propellers using tag board or
They could make pinwheels or small boats to test their designs. Which
work best? Which ones work the fastest? Hold a contest for the fastest,
biggest, most original, etc. propeller.
- Direct students to use the Internet or World Wide Web to
history and uses of wheels and pulleys. The students could also contact
engineers this way and ask them about how these simple machines are used
when they design things.
- Direct students to write for information on Patents.
- Visit a hands-on museum and look for examples of wheels and
- Have a mechanical engineer talk to the class.
- Contact the Chamber of Commerce for information on community
Make a time line of the Industrial Revolution.
Direct students to research great inventors such as Jonas Salk, Thomas
Johann Gutenberg, etc.
Direct students to research great inventions such as the cotton gin,
elevator, etc. that use wheels and pulleys in their design.
Write stories about the pros and cons of progress.
Make collages of simple machines or life around the time of the
Replay the end rap song section of the Bill Nye video using audio only
have students sing. They could also think up dance steps and perform for
parents or other students as a "Simple Machine." Program as the
end of the unit on simple machines.
Master Teachers: Virginia Trombley and Raymond Dubuque
Mountain Lake Public Broadcasting/Plattsburgh, NY
Lesson Plan Database
Thirteen Ed Online