My second grade daughter has lived through an extreme fixation on the study of simple machines at school. My sixth and eighth grade kids also studied simple machines when they were in second grade, but it involved a few worksheets and a classroom project designed to catch a leprechaun. My current second grader has studied simple machines via classroom discussions, sing along songs, the leprechaun project, worksheets, homework, study guides, quizzes AND a final test. What follows is the conversation I had with my eight year old after finding the "Simple Machine Test" in her backpack. The publisher of the test, has the words "Second Grade, Simple Machines Made Simple" written in small print at the bottom of each page. They may want to rethink that title. Here's the conversation:
"I found your Simple Machine Test. You got 32/43 points. You missed a few huh? Let's see what happened to those questions. You can tell me what you were thinking okay?"
"Okay. It was really hard though. Everyone said so."
"No big deal. I just want to see what you were thinking as you answered these. Okay, first one you missed, true or false, a screwdriver is a kind of wheel and axle. You said false. It's true."
"What wheel? Where's the wheel in a screwdriver? Did they mean a power screwdriver? Because there's no wheel in the hand kind, not that I can see. I can see the axle part, but where's the wheel?"
"Yeah. That's a little tricky. Next one. True or false, a nail is an example of a wedge. You said false. It's true."
"A nail doesn't look like a wedge to me. A wedge looks like a slice of pizza or pie."
"I can see your point. Next one. A pencil sharpener is a type of pulley. You said true. Honey, there is no pulley device in a pencil sharpener."
"You know, I've never seen the inside of our pencil sharpener. How do I know what's in it? Maybe when you stick the pencil in the sharpener, and the motor starts going, and a pulley type thing pulls the blades around and around the pencil. I don't know."
"I think they meant the little cheap hand sharpeners. Not the electric kind."
"It didn't say that."
"And even the electric kind don't use pulleys."
"Now I know that. I didn't before."
"True or false, a car is an example of an incline plane. You said true? How did you figure that a car is like an incline plane?"
"Mom, come here. Look out the window at our van. Do you see the front of it? The windshield? It's Incline plane."
"Yeah you're right it is. Okay next section on the test. It says to label the simple machine in each picture. You said the picture of the bucket and well was a pulley. It's a wheel and axle."
"Maybe the illustrator of this test just can't draw very good pictures, because THAT picture looks like a pulley using rope to pull up a bucket from a well. It does not look like a wheel and an axle."
"And you labeled the actual picture of a pulley as being the wheel and axle."
"That's because I already used pulley to label the picture of the bucket and well. I couldn't use it twice. I think this guy just couldn't draw very good pictures."
"Okay. Next section. What two simple machines are in a pair of scissors? Wow. Even I would have to think about that one. You said wedge, and wheel and axle. The wedge is right. There is no wheel and axle in a scissors."
"There is that middle circle that holds the two blades together. It looks like a wheel. Maybe there is a tiny axle that attaches it to the circle on the other side. Wheel and axle."
"I think it's a screw"
"Screws have a pointy end. The only points on a scissors are the tips of the blades."
"I can see how you were thinking with that one. Here's a straight question. What simple machine would you use to open a door? Sweetie you put down wedge. How can a wedge open a door?"
"A wedge can HOLD OPEN a door, you know KEEP the door OPEN. It doesn't stay it had to be opened up for the first time."
"How about the next question. What simple machine would you use to hold two boards together? You said wedge again. How did you think a wedge would hold two boards together?"
"Well, I was actually thinking about making a teepee shape thing with the two boards, like two slides. If you tipped the two boards together like a triangle, they wouldn't hold for long, BUT if you put a wedge in the middle and leaned the two boards up against it, they would be able to stay together at the top see? Leaning on the wedge."
"The answer was screw."
"Two boards screwed together wouldn't make a very good teepee slide."
"You are right again. Well, I can completely understand why you answered those questions the way you did."
"Do you see what I mean Mom? It was a hard test. I just don't always get what they are asking. You know what it is? I just don't think like they do."
No she doesn't, and I hope it lasts.