Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Roll With The Punches: Depression Era Machinery

Paula Weaver
Bay District Schools


Groups construct models of simple and complicated machines with Legos. Then they design an experiment using the scientific method. ESE modifications included.


The student knows that simple machines can be used to change the direction or size of a force.

The student knows that a change in one or more variables may alter the outcome of an investigation.

The student extends and refines use of accurate records, openness, and replication of experiments to ensure credibility.


- Lego Dacta Technic 1030: 10 sets (ratio 1 set per three students)
- Paper/pencil
- Miscellaneous items: paper clips, washers, bolts, marbles
- Graph paper
- Lab Worksheet (attached)
- Resource checklist
- Task checklist for Lego construction and group presentation (attached)
- Rubric for paper (attached)
***Note for Bay County teachers: Lego Dacta sets are available for check out from the Bay District Math/Science Office.


1. Obtain Lego Dacta sets and become familiar with them.
2. Review cooperative and group roles and rules. (Post them in room.)
3. Review Scientific Method: steps should be posted in room.
4. Build a knowledge base of (or review) simple and complex machines.
5. Review safety rules.
6. Review graphing. Make sure they know which graph is used for what kind of information and that a graph is preceeded by a data table..
7. Photocopy materials checklist, task checklist for each group, lab sheet for culminating activity, rubric for paper, and oral presentation rubric.
8. Read book ROLL OF THUNDER HEAR MY CRY to be aware of what the students are learning about racism during the depression in the deep south and how simple and complex machines were used in work.


1. Following an introduction to machines (including machine, inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, wheel and axel,) pass out pictures or show a video of simple and complex machines used in the Depression Era. Ask students to describe experiences using tools in their everyday life, and to those characters in the book ROLL OF THUNDER HEAR MY CRY. Introduce the Lego Dacta set to the class. Model how it is used and demonstrate its use by building from a task card included in the set.

2. Explain the task checklist for assessment (I suggest an overhead transparancy of the checklist). Also explain the checklist for materials each day; this includes the Legos and all other resources.

3. Divide class into groups of three to four students. Each group must demonstrate understanding of the six simple machines by drawing or building with the Legos a model of each: inclined plane, wedge, lever, screw, pulley, wheel/axle. Pass out one checklist per group. Initial each section as the group completes it.

4. Students next combine simple machines to produce complex machines. Each group is assigned a complex machine to build with the Legos following directions on a task card in the Legos set. (Task cards list which materials from the Lego set are needed, show illustrations of steps to complete the task, and provide a picture of the completed machine.) Initial the checklist upon completion.

5. As a culminating assignment, groups design a complex machine using four out of the six simple machines. They also build the complex machine with the Legos and design an experiment testing the complex machine's ability to do work. The experiment must follow the scientific method of problem solving (problem, research, hypothesis, procedure, data, conclusions). Students write out the first four steps of the scientific method for the teacher to approve. Initial checklist as approval.

6. Once the experiment design is approved, the groups perform the experiment repeatedly (5 times at least), gathering data each time. Group members produce a table of the collected data. Provide students with manipulatives with which to perform the work: paper clips, marbles, blocks, etc.

7. Groups interpret the collected data table in the form of a graph and write out their conclusions from the experiment. (Was their hypothesis proven or not; if not, why not; what have they learned?)

8. Once the designed complex machine is complete, the groups present what they have learned by demonstrating the machine at work to the class and turn in their papers. Teachers assess via checklist and paper rubric. Students assess each others' oral presentations via attached rubric.

***NOTE; I use these dacta sets for each of five consecutive classes each day, therefore, cleanup is really important at the end of each class. Students are not allowed to -save- any parts of their machine each day either. Students must rebuild their machines each class period, even the final complex machine. Teamwork via an assembly line eventually develops.


--Materials checklist: pieces of Legos set and other resources used

--Task checklist: six simple machines, complex machine, experiment plan (first four steps of scientific method), and group presentation
--Culminating activity lab sheet
--Rubric for paper
--Rubric for oral presentation (used by teacher and students)
***This assignment assesses the following 7th grade Benchmarks:

Understands uses and combinations of simple machines in complicated machines. [Building them and telling teacher how they are used is reflected in checklist]

Extends and refines use of appropriate experimental design, with consideration for rules, time, and materials required to solve a problem. [This is satisfied via the checklist where teacher signs off on first four parts of the scientific methods paper, the completed paper, and the materials checklist that tasks are complete each class period with materials returned.]

Students will use variables when designing their experiment (which size piece will do more work.)

Students will understand this concept if the teacher will explain it while demonstrating how the Legos are used in the introduction step of the lesson plan. A question and answer session will verify this.

Students are information managers when they write the paper explaining their actions following the scientific method.

Students are critical and creative thinkers when they design a complex machine using four of the six simple machines and then design an experiment to test its ability to do work.

Students are resource managers when they must keep track of the Legos, using them as required to complete the tasks and then returning them on time each day (teacher observation of the process).

Students are cooperative workers when they achieve the goals of the activity by working in their groups.


This lesson is designed to be incorporated into an integrated unit. The theme of the unit comes from the book ROLL OF THUNDER HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D. Taylor.

Allow more time for students to -play- with the Legos before constructing the machines. One Lego set per 2 to 3 students. Provide and explain an example of a designed experiment to use on a complex machine. Give job title to group members (Foreman, Laborer, Apprentice) and rotate positions.
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