If you’ve been a long time reader here, you may remember this post from six years ago – Boy Meets Machine. My then-10-year-old was enamored with a course I built around a fantastic book, The Way Things Work by David Macauley. The book naturally connected itself with some interesting hands-on Physics based explorations and some other fun reading that animated the Physics principles illustrated in Macauley’s book. My young son read and explored and built and was totally inspired! It lit a fire and that young 10 year old is now rapidly approaching 16, and is looking toward engineering as his career path! My second son is ready for a little “Boy Meets Machine” fun! So here we go again!
As I looked over my notes and plans from our first course six years ago, I wanted something a little more detailed. After all, when I built the first course I had no idea it would take on a life of its own. So I wrote some plans divided up across a 36 week school year, and added some fantastic (free) Physics explorations I found online that coordinate with the principles being discussed. I did my best to coordinate chapters and explorations with the discussion in Macauley’s books, and what I’ve come up with is super exciting to my son! I thought I’d share it with you in case it’s a help!
A quick word on the two (soon to be three) editions of this book:
These lesson plans will work with either book, but I recommend The New Way Things Work if you’re purchasing this book for the first time. The Way Things Work was originally written in the late ’80’s, and at the time, computers were cutting edge technology and they were definitely not in everyone’s home. Today, not only do we have computers, but there are tablets, smart phones, and more. If you have access to either book, it’s helpful to note that the first 2/3 of both books are exactly the same! The New Way Things Work takes the entire first 2/3 of The Way Things Work verbatim (after all, inclined planes don’t change or update!), but the last 1/3 of the book on technology – the entire section titled, “The Digital Domain” (including computers), has been updated in The New Way Things Work (last edition was published 1998). The first two terms will work with either book. The last term of the lesson plans reflects the updates from The New Way Things Work,.
And guess what? David Macauley is about to publish a third book in his Way Things Work series, The Way Things Work Now. I’m pre-ordering (it will be available October 2016), and I’ll come back and update the lesson plans and this post once this book is issued! EXCITING!
This is a year long course and is suitable for middle school – the best ages: 6th – 7th graders although an advanced or science passionate 5th grader could complete it, too. This course is for anyone – it certainly isn’t limited to boys! It received the name, Boy Meets Machine, because…I first wrote it for my boys. 🙂 The name of the course now reflects the course itself so I hope that helps it reach all of you that are interested – whether you’re building science plans for boys or girls! All links are hot on the lesson plans – they direct you to the appropriate Physics exploration for that week. I’m also providing a detailed list of materials needed broken down by term…because I’m a mom, too, and if it’s going to get done around here, it better be on some kind of list. Can I get an amen? 🙂
PRINTABLE LESSON PLANS
Click below to download the free printable lesson plans
- The Way Things Work by David Macauley — OR –>
- The New Way Things Work by David Macauley
- An important note – if you only have the original book, The Way Things Work, you can still complete the course as written, but you may want to find some internet sources with updated info to supplement the tech chapters.
- Available for pre-order: The Way Things Work Now – which isn’t listed on these plans, but once the book is issued (October 2016), I will update the lesson plans to reflect this newly updated and revised edition.
- Can You Feel the Force? by Richard Hammond – this book is so engaging and captivating for this age group and topic! Not to be missed!
- Usborne: Energy, Forces & Motion – these are excellent for digging further into Physics ideas because they’re internet linked and may provide further topics to explore. (I don’t require narrations from this book, because it’s mostly info blurbs which, though helpful, aren’t living ideas. And we all know that only living ideas can be narrated.)
- Usborne: Light, Sound & Electricity – see note above.
The following books are not listed on the lesson plans, but would make excellent supplements to this course:
- How Machines Work – Zoo Break! by David Macauley
- Built to Last by David Macauley
- See Inside How Things Work by Conrad Mason (for younger kids)
- How Stuff Works by Marshall Brain
- More How Stuff Works by Marshall Brain
CORE TOOLS – these kits contain all the parts and instructions to demonstrate many of the physics machines described in the first half of the book. They are an indispensable part of the course so that the student can read, apply, know.
- K’Nex Education – Introducation to Simple Machines: Levers and Pulleys kit
- K’Nex Education – Introduction to Simple Machines: Gears kit
- K’Nex Education – Introduction to Simple Machines: Wheels, Axles and Inclined Planes
- Other tools which are detailed on the Simple Machines Materials List.
PROJECTS & EXPLORATIONS – All of the projects listed for this course are noted below by week. They each coordinate with the principle discussed in the week’s reading. Most of the projects on the lesson plans are linked to free Scientific American explorations that demonstrate principles in this course. You will need to provide simple household items for each demonstration (materials list is provided above). At this age, most of these explorations can be completed independently. (Feel free to substitute other Physics explorations if desired.)
- Week 2 – K’Nex Kit: Inclined Plane
- Week 3 – K’Nex Kit: Levers
- Week 4 – K’Nex Kit: Wheel and Axle
- Week 5 – K’Nex Kit: Gears
- Week 7 – K’Nex Kit: Pulleys
- Week 8 – K’Nex Kit: Screws
- Week 9 – Provide a gyroscope toy
- Week 10 – Springs scavenger hunt – stapler, click pen, wind up toy car (possibly one you wouldn’t mind dissecting – you can find these inexpensively in the party favor section of any store.)
- Week 11 – Explore Friction By Launching Stuff & Phone Book Friction
- Week 14 – DIY hot air balloon – detailed instructions here
- Week 15 – Build a Paper Rocket & The Aerodynamics of a Flying Frisbee
- Week 16 – A Really Long Straw
- Week 17 – Stretch It! How Does Temperature Affect a Rubber Band?
- Week 18 – Half Life Coins
- Week 21 – youtube video: How Does a Camera Work?
- Week 23 – Sound Science: Do, Re, Mi with Straws
- Week 24 – Block Radio Waves
- Week 25 – Bend Water With Static Electricity
- Week 26 – Generate Electricity with a Lemon Battery
- Week 27 – Get the Iron Out of Your Breakfast Cereal
- Week 28 – Centripetal Force Using Marbles in Jello
- Week 29 – 35 – Build an Artificial Hand (Robotics principles)
- Week 29 – 35 – Build a simple computer – both of these options are completely approachable for this age group. (My oldest son – the first boy to meet a machine – tells me so!) I provide two options to consider, and both use the Raspberry Pi, an inexpensive, credit-card sized computer. (Learn more about the Raspberry Pi here) Yep, your kids can build their own computer without breaking your budget and yep, it can work just like any other computer! HERE ARE OUR RECOMMENDATIONS:
- Kano Computer building kit with Raspberry Pi 2 – this kit holds your child’s hand and provides all the parts and detailed instructions all in one box. For this convenience, you will compensate with a higher price tag ($149.99), but everything you need will land on your doorstep with a click of a button. It’s actually a good price for the convenience and parts it contains. Your child can build a fully working, functioning computer with the parts provided (probably with little or no help from you). You will only need to provide a monitor with this kit and you’re up and running.
- CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 starter kit – this kit is half the price of the Kano kit ($69.99), and is a good value and a complete kit. Again, with this kit, your child can build a fully working, functioning computer with all the parts provided in the kit, but you may have to be more involved in the steps to ensure directions are followed (this, of course, depends on your child/age/tech literacy…let’s face it, for most of us, the kids know more than the parent when it comes to tech!). You will need to provide a keyboard, mouse and monitor with this kit to get up and running.
- The Physics Fun section of the lesson plans contain some suggestions for filling in with games and other kits. You can choose a few and fill in as budget/interest allows.
- The Way Things Work board game
- Physicsgames.net – online based physics games that are free and you can play on your home computer. Note that I haven’t previewed all of these, but most seem harmless, simple demonstrations of physics principles.
- Physics Fun – this is a collection of toys and kits available to purchase from Scientifics Direct. Choose a few if budget allows.
- Tinker Crate – this is a fantastic subscription service that we’ve really enjoyed! Subscribe and a new kit will land in your mailbox every month. The kits contain everything needed – visuals, instructions, supplies, explanations – to complete science, engineering and technology projects. Not all are physics based, but several are, and the kits are fun! *I* love that the kit arrives and there is very little I need to do other than clap for the finished project! No materials to purchase or organize – it’s all in the box!
I’m thrilled to be able to share the updated printable plans with you and I hope they’re helpful! If they are, let me know! Watch here for updates to the lesson plans as David Macauley’s updated, The Way Things Work Now, is published!
* NOTE * The lesson plans are free, however, this post does contain some affiliate links. It costs you nothing, but it compensates our family a little if you click through – thanks for purchasing through the links! I’m very grateful to you!