Focused exploration: Which ball rolls the farthest?

This was to be our final focused exploration and I very much wanted it to be the children’s own idea. They proposed testing which ball travels farthest. I liked that they wanted a prediction chart, which we’d used in the past. I prepared one with four columns for different types of balls. The children used it numerous times in order to run their tests. They insisted on testing EVERY ball we had!!!

Since we learned last week that balls roll better on floors than carpets, we took the experiment to the hallway. (This also gave us lots of rolling space.) The children agreed it was important to use the same ramp at the same incline for every ball. It seemed to me that they were beginning to understand the need for validity on a 5 year-old level! Here they were, designing an experiment using the scientific method and insisting on consistency.

Children made predictions by placing their photographs beneath the ball they thought would roll farthest. I asked them, Why did you choose that ball? and received a variety of different answers that represented early theories. One child said, I picked the golf ball because heavy balls keep going. His friend tried to change his mind, No, pick the tennis ball. It has air inside. It has mad power!

The trials began with lots of shouting and cheering. Children took turns placing balls on the ramp as others marked the point at which each ball came to a stop with yellow tape.

The styrofoam ball had a disappointing roll and some of the children speculated it was because it was light in weight. One child said the styrofoam ball failed to roll well because it was white. When the white golf ball had a decent roll, she reconsidered. Upon further inspection, she decided it didn’t roll well because it wasn’t completely round. She found a dent in one side and cleared up her own misconception. It has a flat part that made it roll too slow.

What should we do with the balls that hit the side wall? I asked. The children yelled, Do it again! They seemed to understand that it was “not a fair test” if something interfered with the roll.

Our final trial involved two balls, which had both rolled the entire length of the hallway. Interestingly, they were of equal size, but one was hard plastic and hollow while the other was solid rubber. In the end, the hard plastic ball rolled farther.

After thorough scrutiny, the children came to realize that material, size, and weight had little bearing on the result. It’s the smoothness and roundness that counts!  It was a good feeling for me to hear such an accurate conclusion as we ended our year of STEM activities.

Next week, in my final post, I will be reviewing my experience using the PEEP science curriculum.

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