Intro to balls and ramps

Our new topic is the sixth and final unit in the PEEP science curriculum. The topic of balls and ramps is a lot of fun and appeals to many types of learners, especially kinesthetic learners – those who learn while moving.

We began the unit during circle time. I showed the children some wooden molding in a variety of lengths and asked them what they thought we could do with it.  I got some interesting responses as children came forward in turn and demonstrated how the molding could be used as a cane, hockey stick, baseball bat, and a twirling baton. In order to have a common vocabulary, I suggested that we all use the word “ramp” when referring to the molding.

Next, I brought out a series of balls: a tennis ball, wiffle ball, handball, baseball, rubber ball, golf ball, and so on.  We discussed each ball’s purpose and examined its properties—round, hard, soft, fuzzy, smooth, bumpy, has holes, has stitches, etc. Some children discussed what materials the balls were made of and there were a few conjectures about that.

Finally, I offered one ball and one ramp and asked the group, What could you do with these? Victor rushed forward and held the ramp vertically. He placed the tennis ball on the high end and watched it fall. He readjusted the angle of the ramp and replaced the tennis ball. Children cheered as his ball rolled down the ramp.  I asked if anyone had another idea about how to use the ramp and ball together. Xavier placed the ramp horizontally on the floor, placed the tennis ball on it, and used his hand to give the ball a little push. We watched it roll to the end of the ramp.

I let the children know that ramps and balls would be available in the block area for them to explore. Since this is free exploration time, I gave no directions except for safety rules. I also set up a table with some small ramps to investigate by working in pairs.

In our block area, I observed Victor and Xavier each using balls and ramps independently. They were clearly pleased with simply placing balls on an inclined ramp and watching them roll down.

After several minutes of repeating this practice, they looked at one another and came up with the idea of connecting their ramps. At first they tried to do it by holding the ramps, but they found that unstable and their hands kept getting in the way of the ball. We need something to hold them up, suggested one boy. And we need something to put them together and hold them together! added another.

It was a challenge to say the least, but with perseverance and the ingenuity to use other furniture and classroom materials, they constructed a ramp that satisfied them. This is a really good one, says Victor. It has levels.

As the week went on, the designs of the ramps became more sophisticated. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops and hearing their explanations and early theories.

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