Early Simple Machines Set

Spinning Tops

Exploring the effects of gearing, and balanced and unbalanced forces on the movement of an object.

30-45 min.
Grades 1-2


(5-10 Minutes)

One day at the park Sam and Sara saw some other children playing with spinning tops. Their tops spun for a long time before falling over. Great fun! Sam and Sara thought about how to make some tops themselves and in no time they were spinning their own tops. But their tops didn’t spin for long and soon their fingers started to hurt from all the spinning. They needed a device that could make the spinning tops spin faster and better!

Can you help Sam and Sara build a device that can make the spinning tops spin?
Let’s find out!



(10-15 Minutes)

Build the launcher and the spinning top using building instructions no. 2.


Hold the launcher and place the gear end of the launcher over the blue gear axle.
The blue gear should mesh with the big yellow gear and spin as you turn the handle.

Launching tops requires good coordination skills!
Try it yourself.

To launch the top, turn the handle and lift the launcher straight upwards.


It may be a good idea to let younger students play with the top and launcher before embarking on serious testing.


(10-15 Minutes)

Long or longer?
The top can work in two ways. The yellow gear of the launcher can mesh with both the blue and the red gears of the top. Find out which top will spin longest.

First, predict which top will spin for a long time and which top will spin even longer.
Write down your predictions using the words on the worksheet.

Next, test how long the tops will spin first using the blue 8-tooth gear and then the red 24-tooth gear.
Write down your findings using the words on the worksheet.


Have the students reflect on their tests by asking questions such as:
What did you predict would happen and why?
Describe what happened.
Was this a fair test?
Did you turn the handle in tests A and B at the same speed? Did you test all the tops on the same surface?
Describe how the model works.

To accurately time how long the tops spin, use a standard measuring timer.

Did you know?
The blue gear has 8 teeth, the red has 24 teeth and the yellow gear has 40 teeth!



(10-15 Minutes)

Can you design your own spinning top?

Design and make your own spinning tops.


Consider which materials and shapes would be best.
Create amazing optical effects and tops for all sorts of games.

On the worksheet, draw your best spinning top design.

Teacher Support

Students will learn about:
How movement can be described in many ways
How push and pull affect the movement and shape of objects
Framework structures and how to make them stable
Wheels and axles and how to use these for a specific purpose

9656 Early Simple Machines Set (two students per set recommended)
Colored pencils and markers
Several square yards of smooth, flat floor space
Timer or clock

Disciplinary Core Ideas: Physical Science
1 MS-PS2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Crosscutting Concepts
Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation
Systems and system models

Science and Engineering Practices
Asking questions and defining problems
Developing and using models
Planning and carrying out investigations
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
Mathematical Practice
MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
MP2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively
MP4 Model with mathematics
MP5 Use appropriate tools strategically
MP6 Attend to precision
MP7 Look for and make use of structure
MP8 Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Measurement & Data

Writing Standards
W.K.2 / W.1.2 / W.2.2

Speaking and Listening
SL.K.3 / SL.K.5 / SL.K.6 / SL.1.3 / SL.1.5 / SL.2.3 / SL.2.4

Student Material

Student Worksheet

Download to view and share the student worksheet.

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