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6-8 > Physical Science
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Physical Science Duration: Two class periods
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Students will understand the following:

The sixsimple machinesare the basis for all mechanical devices.


The six simple machines are as follows: the inclined plane, the lever and fulcrum, the wedge, the screw, and the wheel and axle, and the pulley


Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest inventors of all time.


Each of his designs implemented one or more of the six simple machines.


For this lesson, you will need:

Research materials about simple machines and about Leonardo da Vinci

Computer with Internet access



Ask students to tell what they know about simple machines. If necessary, review the six simple machines with the class: the inclined plane, the lever and fulcrum, the wedge, the screw, and the wheel and axle, and the pulley.


Divide the class into six groups, assigning one of the simple machines to each group.


Give the groups a two-part assignment:

  1. Find one or more examples of your simple machine. Either bring it to class, photograph it, or draw a picture of it. Record where you found the simple machine. (Examples: a bottle opener is a lever; a knife or ax blade is a wedge; a ramp is an inclined plane.)
  2. Find one or more larger, more complex machines of which your simple machine is a part. Bring the machine to class if possible; otherwise, photograph it or draw a picture of it, with your simple machine labeled. A good example is a sewing machine which implements a wheel, a wedge (the needle), a lever and fulcrum (the foot peddle), and numerous screws. A bicycle is also a good example.
  3. Write an explanation of the kind of work your simple machine does and how it works.

Have each group present its simple machine and its report to the class.


After the presentations, ask students to tell what they know about Leonardo da Vinci. Be sure to bring out that he was not only a great artist, but also a great inventor—one of the greatest of all time.


Assign students to research Leonardo’s life and inventions. Each student should bring to class a photocopy or downloaded-and-printed diagram of one of Leonardo’s inventions.


Challenge students to point out and explain how Leonardo implemented simple machines into his designs.


Help students to conclude that the six simple machines are the basis for all mechanical devices.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students write an explanation for how their simple machine helps do work. Explanations should include the termsfriction, load, force, surface area, anddistance.
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Discussion Questions

1. It is said that with Leonardo “there is more than meets the eye.” Explain the meaning of this statement and give examples to support your answer.
2. After reviewing Leonardo’s accomplishments, do you believe that Leonardo would enjoy life today in America? What might he be doing if he were alive today?
3. Analyze how Leonardo integrated science and art in different aspects of his life. Hypothesize how incorporating his philosophies could improve your approach to life.
4. Do you think Leonardo would feel right at home with robots, submarines, and airplanes? Explain why.
5. Experts stated that “only posterity could carry out Leonardo’s ideas.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain your answer with supporting examples.
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You can evaluate your students on their assignments using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: example of simple machine and example of more complex machine provided, presentation clear and complete
  • Two points:example of simple machine provided, but failure to provide example of more complex machine; presentation clear
  • One point:example of simple machine provided, but failure to provide example of more complex machine; presentation unsatisfactory
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for a clear and complete presentation.
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The Greats

Have students choose an inventor to research. Students should write reports about the inventor’s life and achievements, in addition to listing his most important inventions and explaining how one of them works. Here is a partial list of inventors from which to choose: Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Eli Whitney, James Watt, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Michael Faraday, the Wright brothers, Charles Babbage.   

What’s Next?

Assist your students in generating a list of possible 21st century invention needs. Begin the brainstorming session by suggesting some potential problems or needs including but not limited to pollution, aging, health, recreation, traffic, information management, literacy, clean energy sources, weather protection. Invite students to form groups and choose a need they would like to fill by proposing a new invention. Allow time for groups to meet to discuss their ideas. Have them sketch their invention and write an explanation of how it works and whom it will benefit. (Students should understand that their inventions should be imaginative, but not necessarily viable.)   

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Suggested Readings

Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo da Vinci
Serge Bramly [Translated by Sian Reynolds]. Edward Burlingame Books, 1991.
This in-depth study of the life of Leonardo will help the reader understand this man who was an artist, inventor, scientist, philosopher, and genius of the Renaissance. The black and white sketches and photos will add to your understanding of the insights of this great designer.

What Makes a Leonardo a Leonardo?
Richard Muhlberger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Viking, 1994.
This book carefully examines 12 of Leonardo’s paintings. Of these 12, two are unfinished, one is in ruins, and one is lost, known only from copies by other artists. Read about the history and techniques used in each of these works to gain a greater understanding of this master. We also see Leonardo as a biologist, botanist, engineer, and inventor from his supplemental notes and drawings.

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Exploring Leonardo
A comprehensive overview of the life of Leonardo DaVinci is explored at this location. Included at the site are interactive activities that explore his life as a scientist, an inventor and as an artist.

The Leonardo Museum in Vinci
This is the official web page of the Museum of Leonardo. Visitors can take a virtual tour of the exhibits and locate geographical, historical, and biographical information.

Leonardo’s World
The web site provides an overview of the Renaissance. Features include “Become a Renaissance Man in 9 Easy Steps” and “A Renaissance Timeline.”

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    Renaissance
Definition:The transitional movement in Europe between medieval and modern times beginning in the 14th century in Italy, lasting into the 17th century, and marked by a flowering of the arts and literature and by the beginnings of modern science.
Context:The helicopter was originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It was the dream of the original Renaissance man.

speaker    legacy
Definition:Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.
Context:But Leonardo’s legacy extends well beyond the dozen or so paintings that exist today.

speaker    phenomenon
Definition:An exceptional, unusual, or abnormal person, thing, or occurrence.
Context:According to Carlos Pedriti, Leonardo was “a phenomenon of nature.”

speaker    artisan
Definition:A craftsman.
Context:The artisans must be able to invent, design, and construct. That is the complete artisan, the artisan of the Renaissance.

speaker    enigma
Definition:Something hard to understand or explain.
Context:Who is Leonardo the man? Who is this mystery? Trying to understand the man behind the accomplishments—this enigma—is the challenge of researchers today.

speaker    posterity
Definition:Future generations.
Context:Leonardo was ahead of his time. It was only posterity that could carry out his ideas.

speaker    feasibility
Definition:Capable of being done or carried out.
Context:Leonardo’s original drawings are entered into the computer, taking into account his written notes. It is then possible to test the feasibility of his ideas.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:world history
Understands how European society experienced political, economic, and cultural transformations in an age of global intercommunication between 1450 and 1750.
Understands early influences on the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment (e.g., connections between the Scientific Revolution and its antecedents, such as Greek rationalism, medieval theology, Muslim science, Renaissance humanism, and new global knowledge; connections between the Enlightenment and its antecedents, such as Roman republicanism, the Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution).

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:visual arts
Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.
Understands relationships among works of art in terms of history, aesthetics, and culture.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows that mathematics, creativity, logic, and originality are all needed to improve technology.

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:science
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that throughout history, many scientific innovators have had difficulty breaking through accepted ideas of their time to reach conclusions that are now considered to be common knowledge.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.
Knows that scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences (e.g., scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world that are always tentative and evolving, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations; both science and technology depend on accurate scientific information and they cannot contravene scientific laws).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:science
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that the work of science requires a variety of human abilities, qualities, and habits of mind (e.g., reasoning, insight, energy, skill, creativity, intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, openness to new ideas).

Understands that science involves different types of work in many different disciplines (e.g., scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations; many scientific investigations require the contributions of individuals from different disciplines; new disciplines of science, such as geophysics and biochemistry, often emerge at the interface of older disciplines).

Knows that creativity, imagination, and a good knowledge base are all required in the work of science and engineering.

Knows that throughout history, diverse cultures have developed scientific ideas and solved human problems through technology.

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Our thanks to Paula Kasper, a media specialist at Hoover Middle School in Rockville, Maryland, for her consultation. 
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