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.
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!
Candy and Simple Machine Science Project
- Mini M and M’s (or other similarly sized candy)
- Milk shake straws
- Tooth pics
- Play dough to stabilize the bottom
Build your Flywheel
Build your inclined plane
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.
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
- FREE Simple Machines Mini Book
- I Spy Simple Machines
- Simple Machines Game (freebie)
- Seesaw from cardboard tubes
- 24 Simple Machines Projects for Kids
- Lego sling shot
- Pulleys with cans
- Backyard zipline
- Pulleys with bottle caps
- 1 Simple Machines Unit – Inclined Planes
- 2Simple Machines Unit – Wheel & Axle
- 3 Simple Machines Unit – Gears
- 4 Simple Machines Unit – Wedges & Screws
- 5 Simple Machines Unit – Levers & Pulleys