Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fun With Physics

As the year winds down, it can become more and more difficult to maintain students' interest in day-to-day school activities. My classroom environment is pretty much "organized chaos" throughout the school year, so the mood doesn't change much at the end of the year, although I do end up with more flexibility in my scheduling. As a result, I am able to integrate some activities that take up more time than a standard sixty minute class.

Last week, I started laying the groundwork for "The Challenge". On Monday, I informed students that they would be attempting a challenge on Thursday morning. They would need to bring items from their lockers and from home in order to complete it. Following my usual classroom rules (nothing stinky, nothing dangerous, nothing illegal), I told students that they were permitted to bring anything at all.

"But what is the challenge that we have to complete? How will we know what we need??" students were quick to ask me.

"More information to follow..." was my mysterious reply.

On Tuesday, I reminded them to coordinate with their groups in order to bring a large variety of items.

On Wednesday, I gave them the information that they would have to cause an object that I would give them to have an effect on another object that I would give them. And that the only materials they would be permitted to use would be the few items I supplied them with, and the items they brought from home.

Students arrived on Thursday morning with all kinds of items. A rubber boot, a Newton's cradle, a Lego airplane and a magnifying glass were all in evidence, along with many other supplies.

The Challenge? To create a Rube Goldberg machine that would use a marble as the impetus for causing a balloon to pop.  I provided them with :

- 2 large sheets of paper
- 2 metres of masking tape
- 6 desks
- 6 chairs
- 1 thumb tack
- 2 paperclips
- 6 straws
- 1 marble
- 1 balloon (for testing purposes - if they popped it, they were out of luck! They received another one when they demonstrated their machine to the rest of the class)

And..... GO!

Groups began by taking stock of the items they had in their inventory.  (I put the tape on the floor to confine them to their own area - they were only permitted to use the items that were inside the rectangle)

Next came the planning and trial stage.

Students were engaged in building their machines for just over an hour, tweaking them and trying to improve upon them. It was inspiring to see their collaboration and perseverance on this task!

What I particularly like about this activity, each time I do it with a class, is the creative thinking and collaboration it calls for. Students become so reliant on teachers to tell them exactly how to perform a task (and teachers become so used to providing the structure and steps necessary to achieve the "correct" result) that they (and we) forget what it is to experiment, rework, possibly fail, and enjoy the entire process!