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Name: Carrol
Status: educator
Grade: K-3
Location: MT
Date: June 2008

Our state requires us to have second grade students describe a mechanical system. What would be a definition that a second grade student could understand?


I am not familiar with Montana's requirements, so I recommend you contact your science education coordinator to make sure this is on point for your specific requirements. However, I'll take a stab at what I think they mean, and I hope it will be useful for you.

A mechanical system is any set of elements that have physical/force interactions (as distinguished from chemical, electrical, thermal, etc.). In terms of a second grader, I would focus on forces, or "pushes and pulls". You could define a mechanical system as a set of objects that push or pull on each other. At its simplest level, one object resting on another could be considered a mechanical system. Perhaps a little more interesting, pulleys, springs, inclined planes (with rolling balls), and pendulums all could be fun mechanical systems to study. The key learning objective would be to list and understand the mechanical interactions. I might start with asking the kids to list if/how each object pushes or pulls each other object (do not forget to point out the objects that *do not* interact!). You can distinguish between forces due to gravity and non-gravity forces. Point out that objects will not move until a force acts on them, and they will stay moving until a force stops them (inertia).

I am happy to go more into detail if you have more questions -- just reply to this email.

Hope this helps,

Burr Zimmerman

Why MT requires this -- blows my mind -- its value at the K-3 level is dubious at best. More likely useless. OK!! off my soap box -- Do a "Google" search on the term "simple machines". You will find many "hits" describing 'simple' machines such as pulleys, levers, inclined planes, etc. You should be able to extract concepts from these numerous sites to put a lesson plan together.

If not, respond and I will try to dig deeper into your specific details.

Vince Calder

A bicycle, an air conditioning unit, a car. You know, it was a lot easier to explain when can openers were manual and clocks and watches were mechanical.

Best wishes on your class.

Robert Avakian

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