May 14, 2015

WonderWorks: Pendulums (a.k.a. Wrecking Balls)

Even more fun than catapults!

Today's Topic: Pendulums (or Wrecking Balls!)
cardboard boxes
beach ball
styrofoam cups
large, shallow container (optional)
regular-height tables (instead of our usual short ones)


cover art Bam, bam, bam / Merriam, Eve

The inspiration for this class (or "what I thought kids might do"):
Teacher Tom's Pendulum Play
salt pendulum
wrecking ball block play
knocking down cups 
hang a pendulum from the ceiling

 What Kids Do:
--tie various kinds of balls to the ends of strings that were taped to tabletops and swing them back and forth
Make a cup into a pendulum (experimenting with adding balls or blocks or other weights to the cup to make it swing more quickly and with more force).
Knock down a stack of cups

Knock down a tower of blocks
Knock down a wall of paper triangles
Poke a hole in the bottom of one pendulum-strung cup, fill it with sugar, then let it swing over a sheet of black paper. Watch the pattern emerge! (sort of like this)

But of course, the most fun was the giant beach ball (really it was the sun from this set which used to hang in our children's book area) that I hung from the ceiling. It needed to be reattached a few times until I figured out how to anchor it reliably, but the kids loved swinging that huge pendulum and knocking down tall towers of boxes.

Actually, there were some really great box-stacking lessons learned:

And some interesting moments when the height of the tower plus the distance away from the lowest point of the pendulum's arc meant that the ball completely missed the tower, sparking great, "Hmmm... what could we change?" conversation opportunities.
I think the grown-ups had just as much fun as the kids!

Hindsight Tip:  The inspiration for the ceiling-hung pendulum came from this post but I was glad I'd chosen not to use a tennis ball for our class after seeing how the kids interacted with the ball. This big, ol' softy was perfect. No matter how hard you try to throw this "wrecking ball" at someone, you just can't hurt them, but it was still big enough and heavy enough to knock over a tower of empty cardboard boxes.

Variations to try: 
--If we were doing this project outdoors, it would be fun to try the paint variant!
--From Teaching STEM in the Early Years, p. 26 -- use a magnet stick as a pendulum and scatter a variety of metal objects (paper clips, etc.) on the ground beneath the pendulum. Swing the magnet and watch it pick things up!

Related Apps:

I was thrilled to be able to introduce the kids (and grown-ups) to KAPU Blocks, which encourages creative tower building and includes a wrecking ball when you're ready to build a different tower.  Perfect for today's lesson!

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