Levers at Play

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In this activity, learners consider how a simple machine, a lever, turns a small push or pull (a small force) into a larger--or stronger--push or pull (a larger force). Learners then apply this concept to designing a model seesaw. In small groups, they explore a variety of materials in an open-ended process of building, testing, and revising. The challenge is set in an age-appropriate context of addressing one or more real-world challenges, such as designing a seesaw on which two people of different weights (e.g., a child and parent) or a person using a wheelchair can ride. This activity is part of a curriculum designed to engage learners in hands-on engineering challenges.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 11

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A writing surface where the groups may sketch and write (optional)
  • 10 small, relatively heavy objects, such as weights, pennies, metal washers, small rocks, or dried beans
  • 2-3 LEGO® people (optional)
  • A selection of long, thin, flat boards such as rulers, paint stirrers, popsicle sticks, large craft sticks, yardsticks
  • A selection of cylinders such as soup cans, paper-towel tubes, dowels, ribbon and thread spools, markers, pencils, triangular blocks
  • 2 small paper cups (such as 3-oz. Dixie® bath cups)
  • 3 adhesive labels (preprinted with the terms "load," "fulcrum," and "effort") and a bean-bag chair or other fairly heavy object (optional)
  • broom or long, flat board (optional)
  • 1 (8½" × 11") Be Creative…Be an Engineer! poster (for tweens, teens, and adult helpers)
  • A selection of adhesives: 3 or more rolls of masking tape, 3 packages of putty adhesive, such as Sticky Tack, and 1 (½" size, 200-ct.) roll of Glue Dots®


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Mechanical Engineering
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
      • Gravity
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • About Inquiry
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
    • Science as a Career
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Research and Development
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Literature
  • Model Building
  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • , Lunar and Planetary Institute, 2013

Funding Source:

  • NSF, DRL-1010844