Further exploration of balls and ramps

This week the children moved on very naturally from their sliding/rolling concentration to explore more elaborate ramp designs. They began to pay closer attention to the relationship between a ball’s physical makeup and its speed. Where is that blue ball? Xavier asked. Not the one with the holes, the small one… Why do you like that one best? I asked. Because it goes fast. Really fast.  I prodded further, Do you have any ideas about why it goes so fast? He thought for a bit before responding, It’s faster because it’s really round and smooth. That’s why. That’s why it rolls fast.

Victor wanted to know if size made any difference to a ball’s speed and rolling ability. He brought his basketball from home to conduct an experiment of his own.

He had to do quite a bit of engineering to make a ramp that would support the basketball! Some of his peers worked collaboratively with him. After several trials, he determined his ball wasn’t faster than a tennis ball, but it had “more power”. It can knock stuff over better.

This week the children also watched the PEEP video, “Building Ramps”.


In this live-action video, some girls invent a game, which then inspired some of my students to try to make up their own games. Victor and Xavier’s game had each of them holding one end of a ramp. They tried to move the ball back and forth between them. At first, a boy would raise his end a little higher for each turn. Soon they were holding the ramp above their heads. I approached and wondered aloud, I wonder if you could hold that ramp at shirt level and still be able to play that game? This challenge proved more difficult than I would have guessed. There was considerable discussion about who would hold his end up versus who would hold his end down. There was some annoyance when the ball slowed to a stop in the middle every time the boys held the ramp level. Neither child was dissuaded from his task. I had to remind myself not to interrupt or give too many suggestions and let them discover the phenomena by themselves. At last they figured out how to alternate lifting and lowering their sides in rhythm. Their joyful exclamations were my reward for not interfering. Come and see!  We’ve got it! They shrieked. Yes, you certainly do.


I was pleased to witness this learning experience and proud that the boys now had some concrete understanding of gravity. I began to think about how to plan for a progression of further learning. Suddenly, I turned back to them and saw they were trying to make the ramp longer by holding two ramps together. I stopped planning and went to get the tape!

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