Mechanical Energy - Candy and Simple Machine Science Project

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mechanical Energy - Candy and Simple Machine Science Project

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Candy is always a fun way to learn STEM. This simple machines project presents a great way to talk about the transition between potential energy and kinetic energy as well as practice some engineering skills. Kids of all ages will love this mechanical energy activity!
Mechanical Energy - Candy and Simple Machines Science Project! This is such a fun way for kids to use STEM to learn with a hands on science project using m&m candies and a straw simple machine for homeschool, kindergarten, first grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade.

One of my daughters has been begging to learn more science lately. She and all of siblings spent most of an hour watching M and M's go down the slide and turn the fly wheel. While they played we talked about the physics involved.

Mechanical Energy

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. As the candy slides down the shoot, it gains more and more speed. The more speed it gains the more kinetic energy  it has.

Where does the energy come from? I asked. My older child knew immediately that this gain in energy was due to gravity. Force fields have been a special interest lately, and gravity is a field force. Any time an object is pulled in by a field force it tends to gain kinetic energy. At the top of the slide the M and M has potential energy. As gravity pulls the candy down the inclined plane, the potential energy is mostly converted to kinetic energy. (A tiny bit of the mechanical energy will be converted to heat by friction.)

Where does the mechanical energy go?  This was easy. At the bottom of the slide, or inclined plane the M and M transfer's it's mechanical energy to the flywheel, a type of lever. Both inclined plans and levers are a type of simple machine.

Simple machines  are devices that change the direction or the magnitude (size) of a force. How did these machines change the force?  The inclined planes changed the direction from straight toward the center of the earth to a path that was more parallel. The fly wheel lever actually changed the direction from straight down to a circle- angular motion!

Simple Machines Candy Machine

materials for candy simple machine project
To make your candy machine you will need:
  • Mini M and M's (or other similarly sized candy)
  • Milk shake straws
  • Tooth pics
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Play dough to stabilize the bottom
build your flywheel with straws and toothpicks

Build your Flywheel

To build your fly wheel, cut two lengths of straw about 10 cm high. Notch the top ends, and secure the bottom ends in the play dough. Cut another piece about 5 cm long and cut out a piece on each end as shown. Then push a tooth pic through the center. Suspend this from the longer straws by the tooth pic.

Build your inclined plane

Create the slides for your candy by cutting the straws in half. Cut a straw just a little taller than your flywheel and notch the top to fit the half straw onto it. Experiment with making sure the candy will hit the flywheel as it comes off before taping it together. From there, you can make any combination of slides that interests you.

simple machines inclined planes

If your child enjoys these types of toys, you may want to check out Paul Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. It's meant to be used as a text book, but is written so well that we tend it to pick it up for pleasure reading. Hewitt uses humor and every day examples to make physics accessible to anyone.

simple machines

Don't be fooled. Physics is not a difficult science because there is so much to learn. There is very little to know. The important thing is that your children learn the skills of applying a few simple concepts in a variety of situations. As they do, they'll begin to see the amazing complexity of the world all around them, just like my kids did with this candy machine.

Simple Machines for Kids

Christy McGuire is a former AP physics teacher, and current mother of 4. She and her children enjoy exploring science and math together. Head over to Thriving STEM to find more science, technology, engineering and math ideas to use with your kids.  Follow along on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and Twitter.

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