Simple Machines in 1st Grade (and Kindergarten too!)

I enjoyed teaching programming to first grade so much that I began to look for fun ways to add critical thinking to their curriculum. I wanted to see kids smile and sneak in learning. I have some wonderful people that I work with. Karen Blumberg has been doing robotics throughout her career and she is one of the organizers of RoboExpo, a robotics exhibition show for students. She has cool resources for children of all ages. Dylan Ryder put me onto these really cool books on simple machines. I began researching the topic further and came to the Lego site! Now this isn’t anything new. And I am not trying to act like I am the inventor of adding simple machines and robotics to schools. We have a robust robotics program beginning in the 2nd Grade so it isn’t even new to me 🙂  I just wanted to add some aspects of Legos and the Maker Movement to Kindergarten and First Grade.

I did some research and found Lego Wedo sets. My students are learning the ins and outs of  Gears and Pulleys. It is so awesome to teach them the principles around simple machines and have them consider what variables effect outcomes. Since this is the first year I am doing this with my students, I am going to see how many concepts I can fit in and how much they can absorb. The good news is the students regularly use the jargon and have been able to make the connections I hope for. And they are completely engaged which means, I have minimal class management issues.

Things to consider:
I have at least 10 minutes of prep time before class
I am specific about the children’s process to minimize loss of pieces.
I ask the students to take off the cover and place it under the kit.
Then, remove the pieces from the plastic tray and place them in the bin.
After, take out the plastic tray and use that exclusively to organize the pieces for the items you are building.
No pieces should be on the table or stored in your hands.
Very Important: I ask students to collect all the pieces they need and place them in the plastic tray before building. Then I look to make sure they have all the correct pieces. Since they are so young, they really pay attention to detail if you give them the tools.

The Wedo software is great and easy to use. The tutorials are straightforward and the students can independently build and program. You can create supporting worksheets to guide inquiry and discovery.  Also, call all the pieces by their names. Children feel professional when they can discuss the tools like a professional.

Concepts taught so far:

  • Motor and Axles
  • Gears
  • Gearing Down
  • Gearing Up
  • Pulleys and Belt
  • Crossed Belt
  • Decrease and Increase Speed
  • Worm Gear


  • Motor
  • Gears
  • Pulleys
  • Belts
  • Cross Belt
  • Driving pulley
  • Follower pulley
  • Axle
  • And the names of the pieces. A good site to get all the names is here and here.

Compare and Contrast: Variables that effect speed and direction of pulleys.

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