Learning about Levers

In the afternoon of Thursday 2th April, the Year 3s were treated to their second engineering session from Luke Bladen and Tom Kelly – engineers at Daresbury Laboratory, who are currently working with Rode Heath to develop a fundamentals engineering programme. To help us with the practical activities, we have invested in a K’nex class set of Simple Machines, which includes gears, pulley and levers: https://www.amazon.co.uk/KNEX-STEM-Simple-Machines-Classroom/dp/B00F6T8NXQ/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1487404732&sr=8-4-fkmr0&keywords=k%27nex+simple+machines+glass+set


This session was all about levers and how we can use them to make our lives easier. We learnt that levers are useful, simple machines that are found in many places. The children were able to identify many examples of levers in the Year 3 classroom – hinged doors, crocodile clips, staplers, staple removers and scissors.

Having discovered that their environment was full of levers, the children learned about the 3 points in a lever: effort, load and fulcrum. This was going to be important later on when they built their own levers and had to identify what class they were.

By simply demonstrating how a penny could be used as a lever to open a golden syrup tin, (goodness knows what happened to the all syrup from those empty tins – did they really eat it?), Luke was able to show how by using increasing the length of the levers – from the penny to a small screwdriver, followed by a much longer one – he was able to make it much easier to open the tin.

In fact, if he doubled the length of the lever, then this halved the effort required. Already I was thinking about how we could use this is in our maths lessons.

The final piece of information we were given, before the children set about making their own levers with K’nex, was that there are three basic types of lever: class 1, 2 or 3. They all share the same components; the difference is the order in which the fulcrum, load and effort are placed.

As you can see from the slide below, different classes of lever are better for particular jobs.

Examples of 1st Class levers: Seesaw; crowbar; the claw of a claw hammer; oars on a rowboat; scissors (2 connected 1st Class levers).

Examples of 2nd Class levers: Wheelbarrow; Paper cutter (guillotine); Hinged door; Nutcrackers (two 2nd Class levers.)

Examples of 3rd Class levers: Stapler squeezed by hand; hammer driving home a nail; fishing rod; tennis racquet; baseball bat; golf club. Tweezers and ice tongs are examples of two 3rd Class levers working together.

(K’nex have an excellent guide to Levers and Pulleys which comes with their kit of the same name; 78610-TG-Levers-and-Pulleys)

The rest of the session was spent using the class K’nex set to make different classes of lever. As usual with engineering sessions, the children were very engaged and quickly set about producing all manner of ideas. Again, success was achieved by those who sometimes struggle with the more academic subjects. As well as creating their examples, the children were encouraged to think about what class of lever they had made.

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Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was when Mr Randall and I were able to play on the seesaw. It quickly became apparent, that I was at least as heavy, if not heavier, than my colleague!

Next it was the children’s turn. By using the seesaw they could clearly see what happened when you increased the weight on one side – you had to increase the distance from the fulcrum on the other side if you wanted the seesaw to balance. This physical demonstration was so effective, that it made Mr Randall and I think of dusting off our old balance scales from the maths cupboard and bringing them back into use.

The children certainly enjoyed the afternoon and learned a great deal.

We can’t wait for our next session on gears.


The growing impact of EHoM

On March 21st, we invited teachers from our Tinker, Tailor, Robot Pi group to visit Rode Heath to see how we are embracing Engineering Habits of Mind in our school.

Each class enthusiastically shared an aspect of their engineering practice. The activities were wide and varied:

  • Reception – everything, from investigating pulleys by trying to get food into a giant blow-up dinosaurs mouth to diverting the path of water using bamboo. Everyone’s such a natural engineer in this class.
  • Year 1 – designing and making backscratchers.
  • Year 2 –  incorporating engineering into Literacy (The Dragon Machine) by making a boat for George to travel across the raging river.
  • Year 3 – testing structures with a jelly wobbler powered by Crumbles.
  • Year 4 – incorporating engineering into Science by creating Northern Light effects using squishy circuits.
  • Year 5 – incorporating engineering into History & Literacy with their bridge building activity.
  • Year 6 – thinking outside the box with their box creating project.

In Year 5 at the moment we are lucky to have Natalie Bowers, who is working as an Associate Teacher with Rode Heath. She was tasked with linking EHoM with their Viking topic, so she chose to focus on the mythical Viking bridge Bifröst, as referenced in Tony Bradman’s Viking Boy.

Here is a copy of the PowerPoint she produced for her lesson.

Bridge Buildng Power Point

What is of particular interest are her views on how children are responding to our Think Like An Engineer project and whether she feels that this way of working is something that she may adopt in her own teaching.

Here is what she has to say:

Recently, I have been fortunate enough to deliver my first ever Engineering lesson, which provided the perfect opportunity to delve further into the notion of Engineering Habits of Mind (EHoM).

During a reflective mini-plenary, I questioned pupils about the concept and what it meant to them and was blown away by the depth of knowledge and self-awareness that they conveyed.

“We use EHoM every day!” they exclaimed.

“How?” I asked. To which they answered with a succinct definition of the approach. They also revealed a clear understanding of how EHoM positively impacts on their learning throughout the curriculum, identifying the use problem solving skills to recognise and rectify their errors; visualisation to focus on their desired goals and systems thinking to approach challenges logically.  Intrigued, I investigated further.

“Surely you can’t use EHoM in other subjects like PE, can you?” an enquiry which was immediately met with a definitive “YES!”, “we visualise our goals and try new techniques to improve.” Throughout the subsequent lesson children demonstrated their proficiency in applying each of these habits of mind, confirming just how successful an approach it is. 

In my short time at Rode Heath, I have become gripped by this ideology and now strive to embed it within my own personal pedagogy. I am both thankful and excited to be working in such a forward-thinking school, with such an innovative and unique ethos.

Natalie Bowers
Associate Teacher

It is really encouraging that a student coming into our school can see the impact that our project is having on the children, and, more importantly, want to share it with others.

For more information on Engineering Habits of Mind you should read the latest report by the Royal Academy of Engineering: http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/learning-to-be-an-engineer