Mechanical Engineering with Leonardo Da Vinci: Designing and Building "Useful Machines"

Article excerpt

Mechanical engineering, at its core, involves making things move. This article will present a case study that illustrates how you can integrate the concepts of mechanical engineering in ways that elementary students can understand.

project details

The project examined by this case study was produced by the second and third grade students at Honey Creek Community School in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I am the Technology Specialist. Last year I taught a unit for the first time called "Inventors and Inventions" in which the second/third grade students examined how technology has evolved throughout history. We started with modern times and worked our way back, culminating with Leonardo da Vinci as our final inventor.


I worked closely with the second/ third grade teachers during this unit to integrate this project with their language arts time. I requested that the students hear the Magic Treehouse book Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne for read-aloud, which meant that all of the students had heard of Leonardo da Vinci by the time we started this project!

For the first week of this project, the students started out by listing facts they knew about Leonardo da Vinci, as well as things they were curious about. They then were given different tools and machines to study, emulating the kind of careful study da Vinci was known for. This lesson was derived from an online lesson produced by the Museum of Science called "Inventor's Workshop."

* InventorsWorkshop.html

The tools and machines included pliers, a paper punch, a wind-up toy, and a small tabletop drill press. Each machine or tool was made up of at least one simple machine, just like many of Leonardo da Vinci's designs. The students also had a chance to play the online mechanical design game Fantastic Contraption:

* http:/

The following week, the students were presented with the following design challenge.

design brief

Design and build a useful machine, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's designs!

project requirements

* Have a sketch before your group starts.

* Must use at least one simple machine (lever, screw, wheel and axle, etc.).

* Must be human powered.

* Must have at least one moving part.

Students worked in pairs and groups of three to design and build their useful machines. …