Making a Dumbwaiter


This challenge connected our field trip to Monticello and our learning about Thomas Jefferson with simple machines. We had seen the dumbwaiter that Thomas Jefferson made in his dining room to bring wine bottles up from the cellar. When we were at Monticello, I told the kids to pay careful attention to the dumbwaiter because they were going to have to make one the next day for Challenge Friday. Their immediate reaction: “Are you kidding??? How are we supposed to do that???” and “Um, you’re going to give us more pieces, right?”

On Friday, we began the discussion by remembering the dumbwaiter that we had seen the previous day. We talked about what purpose it served and how it worked. I showed the kids a quick video on youtube about how pulleys work. I showed the video in English and in Spanish, because I have a student who just moved here from Honduras and speaks only Spanish. Then I drew a diagram of a pulley on the board and had the kids help me label the parts in English and Spanish – wheel, axle, rope, load, and effort.

Then I showed the kids a little Lego minifigure I have of Thomas Jefferson. (I think it’s really some random revolutionary war soldier, but it serves the purpose fairly well!) I also showed them the additional pieces I had added to each of the challenge bags: a chain to act as the rope, a golden goblet to be the bottle of wine, a wheel without a tire (so there will be a groove for the chain to fit in), and an axle for the wheel. All the other pieces from previous challenges remained the same.

The kids set to work immediately building a pulley system and platform that would lift the golden goblet up to the table where Thomas Jefferson sat. When questioned on the parts of the pulley, they could accurately identify the axle, wheel, cable, load, and effort. I had them work with partners again, explaining that I really wanted them to continue having the experience of working through shared ideas, disagreements, and compromise.

In the end, all partners were able to build a simplified version of a dumbwaiter successfully. They had fun with little Thomas Jefferson receiving his wine to take with his dinner!



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