Simple Machine STEAM/STEM Lesson Brings Amsterdam to Massachusetts

With a loud and clear love for travel, it was probably no surprise to my students that I would find a clear connection between travel to another area of study, STEAM.

It all started with our study of Europe. After talking about places around Europe, I gave students a small book I wrote about Amsterdam (which you can grab for free on my TpT store). The book gives general information about this major city in Europe based on my travels there. One particular section of the book, about gables on homes and buildings in Amsterdam was the link to STEAM.

I still remember first learning about the hooks attached to the gables on buildings in Amsterdam as I took a boat tour through the city and thinking, OMG this is the perfect STEAM lesson! Attach a pulley to the hook and, voila! Couches, beds, fridges, really any large item could then be hoisted up and in through the windows of the narrow, old buildings. How awesome!

Back to the classroom. Students read about Amsterdam and we talked quite a bit about the gables and their purpose. I even pulled up a few YouTube videos of people moving things in and out of their Amsterdam homes so students could see the gables in action.

With a good base knowledge, we switched gears and talked about pulleys and simple machines. It is the pulley systems attached to gables that makes moving possible.  I read the book Simple Machines (Let’s Read and Find Out Science) and students watched a BrainPop Jr video on simple machines to learn more about pulleys. Both generated discussions about pulleys and what they had seen and read about how this simple machine is used in Amsterdam. Students were making the connection how a simple machine could make work easier, in particular moving heavy items in Amsterdam easier. 

With everything they needed to know, students then started the engineering process imagining and sketching their own versions of pulley systems for Amsterdam. The next day we took the lesson down to the STEAM lab. Students took their STEAM challenge packet and got right to work. Together in small groups they designed and built a pulley system to mimic the ones used in Amsterdam. While I couldn’t have students hauling couches up and down in a classroom, we did have full containers of Clorox Wipes handy, I mean they’re practically the same thing, right?!

It was amazing to see students in action. Working together, trying things out, making adjustments and then testing their designs out at our testing station. Students were engaged, excited and having a blast during this STEAM lesson.

I can’t wait to design more international STEAM challenges! In fact, I already have one for Finland in the works to go along with the small book I wrote. What I love most about these STEAM lessons, are how they bring places from around the world into the classroom. They make meaningful real world connections for students.

If you are interested in this lesson, or if you teach about the seven continents, check out my TpT store to scoop up these great resources. If you know another teacher who you think would love this lesson or others like it, please share this post!



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