Apr 23, 2013

WonderWorks: Ramps!


Exploring the power of downhill!

Today's Topic: Ramps
--Cove molding, cut to approximately 12" & 18" lengths (available at hardware stores, they are often willing to cut it for you.  Click the link above to see the type of silhouette you should be looking for.)
--Small balls of all kinds--rubber bouncy balls, large wooden beads, marbles--nothing too large for kids to hold easily in one hand
--toy cars (optional)
--wooden blocks
--nonslip shelf liner (optional.  I used some donated mousepads...)
--carpet tubes (optional, but free to get from carpet stores and tons of fun for kids!)

cover art Chicken chickens / Gorbachev, Valeri   

After reading the book above (which is about a playground and specifically about a first experience on a slide), I brought out a length of cove molding and a ball.  I laid the wood flat on the floor and placed the ball on one end and told the group that engineering is just a fancy word for "problem solving" and told them that today's "problem" to solve was how to move this ball from one end of the wood to the other end of the wood without touching the ball.  I was thrilled with the variety of solutions they came up with!

What Kids Do: 

line up balls on the wood strips

use a car to push the ball (he's not touching the ball!)

 blow the ball across!

 pick up the wood and tip it to create slope

 elevate one end of the wood on the non-slip surface

 balance balls on either end (hooray for repeating earlier explorations!)

 combine several pieces of wood to make a longer ramp (with both uphill and downhill portions!)

 (Ah, right.  It doesn't work to overlap in this direction)

 Make taller ramp supports

 Build a bigger ramp!

 Send the wood pieces down the bigger ramps...

 Find other "ramps" in the classroom (check this one out below the folding table!)

Discover the echo inside these tubes!

Adult Challenge of the week:  Allow your child to try out their own ideas.  This basically means that your job is to give them the problem to solve and then allow them to come up with solutions on their own and try them out to see which ones work.  Even if you know that their solution will not succeed, let them try it out.  Not only will this give them the confidence to try their new ideas but they will learn for themselves (in a very real and physical sense) what works and what does not and that is a much stronger lesson than having an adult tell them what will or won't work.

Hindsight Tips: 
--This class was hugely fun and many parents commented afterwards about how much fun their kids had and how much they enjoyed watching their children learn from the project today, experimenting and trying out their own ideas.
--If you do this class before the balancing class, the cove molding would make great fulcrums!
--You could easily simplify this class by just using the cove molding, balls and blocks and I believe kids would be able to entertain themselves the whole time with just those materials.  That being said, the large carpet tubes were somehow easier for the kids to immediately make into ramps and were a runaway hit of this class.

 Variations to try: 
--If you have a local Boy Scout troop that participates in a Pinewood Derby competition, perhaps they would have ramps that you could borrow? 
--The inspiration for this particular project came directly from the book Ramps and Pathways:  a constructivist approach to physics with young children by Rheta DeVries and Christina Sales which is a fantastic book about a school where they allow kids to explore this "ramp" concept for (literally) years and years!  I read the book from cover to cover in one afternoon and found some excellent fodder for future "Adult Challenges of the Week" as well as a solid basis of understanding about why ramps are such a great hands-on learning tool for kids.  After reading this book, I almost just wanted to start an ongoing program series about ramps.  If you work at a library where you have easy sightlines over the children's area, you might want to consider incorporating a box of blocks, cove molding and (non-choking hazard sized) balls into your stash of library toys and perhaps posting a different "problem" to solve each month? ("Can you make a ball turn a corner in a ramp?" "Can you make a ball roll up a ramp?" "What's the longest ramp you can design within this footprint [taped onto the floor]?")  There are so many great possibilities!

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