After practicing with levers for many weeks, the children recently started using these items more and more as ramps rather than as a means to pry or pull. They were using long wooden planks outside to do things like climb into the window of the playhouse or roll a heavy, water-filled dump truck up to the birdbath. They even used an old rope to make a very fun zip-line.
What would happen if we connected these big, outdoor uses of ramps to our indoor play space? What would the kids do on a smaller scale?
Taking advantage of the peg board in the block room, we collected cardboard tubes, cut down wooden dowels, acquired some aquarium tubing, rubber bands and most importantly gathered some marbles. After showing off the new materials to everyone at an afternoon circle time, the block room was open for exploring. It seemed that at first the children were most interested in the pegs and rubber bands. They made colorful geometric designs and practiced stretching the rubber bands as far across the board as they would go. Soon the aquarium tubing came out but was used mostly as a decorative accent to the rubber band creations.
What they were doing was valuable. It made them happy, kept them busy and was testing their creativity as well as their fine motor skills but…as a teacher I was hoping for a different result. I decided to nudge them along. And honestly, I wanted to play with the peg board too. I grabbed a tube and placed in on some existing pegs, wrapped an aquarium tube around it to keep it from sliding and sent a marble down the tube. I wasn’t sure if anyone was watching me but as soon as that marble shot past their line of sight, I had their attention.
The children spent a few days adding to the tube that I had placed there. They placed pegs in an intricate design to create a sort of Plinko effect and even tried to put rubber bands below to catch the marble before it fell to the ground. Eventually the tube fell and the pegs were moved to be used for something else. The kids still tried to make new marble runs but I could see them becoming frustrated when their results didn’t come as easily as the first time around. I observed over and over that this frustration was coming from the marble not getting enough momentum to get all the way through the tube, often because the kids were laying their tracks horizontally on the pegboard.
That week, in an afternoon circle we had a demonstration and a conversation to see if putting their ideas about ramps to practice would help them with their marble run building. I laid out three small ramps, 1 block high, 2 blocks high and 3 blocks high. The children made predictions about what would happen when a car was rolled down each ramp. I was interested to find out that for the most part the children thought that the speed of each car would be most affected. They predicted that the car on the ramp with the steepest incline would get to the bottom first. That prediction was proven to be correct but they also noticed something else. The car on the higher ramp went farther than the other cars. We made marks on the rug to show each car’s distance after rolling down the 3 ramps. We noticed a pattern! There was a clear line that went from the short ramp to the taller ramp. We placed a piece of tape connecting all three data points. The children figured out that if we had a ramp with 4 blocks, or a ramp with 2 1/2, we would know how far the car would go because that’s where the tape line was. The children’s observations added a whole new layer to our predictions.
With their new understanding, many children ran into the block room to make ramps and marble runs. They even started experimenting with different heights for their ramps. MH realized that his ramp could be too high causing his car to just fall and crash. This was a contradiction to our “rule” that the higher the ramp the farther a car would roll. These contradictions are where the practical thinking and learning begins!
This exploration has only just begun and I can’t wait to share how the kids are moving this project work along and what new challenges they take on.