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Secrets of Lost Empires I—Colosseum

Classroom Activity

To discover how to use pulleys to change the direction of force.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Reel Distances" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  • several meters (yards) of string
  • paper
  • two pulleys
  • paper clips
  • wooden laundry clips
  • straws
  • paper cups
  1. A pulley consists of a freely turning wheel and a rope. The wheel is fixed to a support and the rope runs over the wheel. Students can discover how to use pulleys to change the direction of force (e.g., pulling a rope down to hoist a flag up) in this activity.

  2. Organize students into small groups and distribute copies of the "Reel Distances" student handout and a set of materials to each group.

  3. Point out to students that the ancient builders had to be remarkably inventive in their use of materials and tools to achieve their engineering feats. Explain that each team must devise a way to send a note back and forth across a distance, using only the materials provided. (See How to Make a Pulley below.)

  4. Allow students to discover for themselves how pulleys might be used for the challenge. When groups have completed the challenge, have each group present its method to the class and explain how group members came up with their design. Working with students, develop ways to evaluate designs, noting that no one best design exists and that different tasks require different designs.

How to Make a Pulley
Materials for each pulley

  • one wooden spool
  • wire cutters
  • wire coat hanger
  • pliers

Cut a 25 cm (10 in.) length of wire from the coat hanger. Slide the wire through a wooden spool. Allow one end of the wire to extend farther than the other. Use pliers to bend the wire at right angles on either side of the spool. Bend the short end of the wire around the other to secure the ends together. Bend the long end into a hook.

Activity Answer

Students' designs will vary. If students are having difficulty understanding how a pulley can be used to change direction of force, have them experiment with one pulley, noting how when they pull down on the string, the object attached to the other end is lifted up. Some teams may design systems that do not involve pulleys. These are valid inventions and provide an opportunity to compare different designs and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a pulley.

Teacher's Guide
Secrets of Lost Empires I—Colosseum

Video is required for this activity

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