Simple Machines at Play

Simple machines have transformed our world.

Humans have always looked for better ways to do things. SIMPLE MACHINES AT PLAY explores six special mechanical devices — the simple machines — that have transformed our world by letting us do more work with less effort. While simple machines are used to make work easier, in this expansive outdoor exhibit they’re the basis for play too! You’ll climb, race, lift and slide — moving your body and engaging your mind on the way to a better understanding of these transformative inventions.

Simple machines are all around us. After visiting this exhibit, you’ll start seeing examples everywhere! Explore and have fun — and think about how these devices change our lives.

  • Levers help us feel stronger by making heavy things easier to lift. How strong? With the Lever Lift, strong enough to lift your friends in a giant globe! A lever is a beam that moves around a fixed point called a fulcrum. It helps move a heavy load on one end when effort is applied to the other. Test your strength by trying to lift the globe using different ropes hanging from the beam.
  • In Just Plane Zippy, race a friend down one of two exhilarating zip lines, but don’t forget to look up. There’s a simple machine right above you — the zipline itself is an inclined plane! Usually, objects are moved up or down an inclined plane to a different elevation. Here, it’s not an object but you who is moving. How will an extra push, or applied force, affect who zips faster?
  • Any ramp or slope is an inclined plane — and the greater the tilt, the faster an object moves. At Acceleration Plane, place weighted wheels at the top of each ramp and let go to see how gravity works against friction. Switch things up by adjusting the weights on the wheels to see if you can affect how quickly they zoom down the inclined planes.
  • Can you imagine a world without wheels? Go for a spin on The Wheel Deal and learn firsthand how a wheel and axle makes work easier. When you apply force, a wheel rotates on an axle, reducing friction to make it easier to move an object. You couldn’t move this giant structure without this terrific twosome! Grab onto the outside or sit inside as this machine does its work.
  • In Pulley Power, you can lift a bowling ball with ease — a feat made possible by a simple machine called a pulley. It’s just a rope looped around a wheel on an axle, but it packs a lot of power. By changing the direction of the force applied, you can lift something heavy with ease. Pull a rope to lift the bowling ball, then let it go to send a tennis ball flying into the air!
  • A fork, a shovel, teeth — they’re all examples of the wedge, a triangle-shaped tool with at least one slanted side. One of the earliest simple machines, wedges help you lift or separate objects with less effort. In Wedge It, you can use one kind of wedge (your hands and feet) to scamper up a wedge-shaped climbing wall.
  • Slide down the ridges — or threads — of a screw in the Screw Slider. You can rotate the threads in a screw to hold objects together, or twist them to lift materials out of the ground. A screw’s power depends on how close together the threads are. The closer the threads, the easier it is to turn. How quickly and easily can you turn yourself down the slide?
  • Ready for an adventure? Scale the massive, three-story tall Luckey Climber to get a birds-eye view of the simple machines in the exhibit. It’s a climber and sculpture in one — there’s nothing else like it in Kansas City!

“For once I was able to find a truly project-based learning experience. This competition is oriented for student-centered, cooperative action. It was fantastic to watch a small spark grow.”
Lee Winslow, Belton High School