Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Simpler Is Better

Throwing things, especially balls, is fun. When you throw a ball it tends to then fly or roll away from you, although that's far from certain when you're just learning how. Still, if you want to recreate the fun, you normally then have to track it down, which can really get in the way of your experiments.

When I hung a couple of tennis balls on twine from the cross bar of our retractable canopy last week, I figured I was making a pair of pendulums. The idea was to stack up a few coffee cans on the table tops, then step back and swing the ball in an attempt to knock over the cans -- a form of skittle bowling I suppose.

The 5-year-olds got first crack at it, and though many of them lost interest when it became clear that they were going to be responsible for re-setting their own pins, a handful of them stuck it out, experimenting with the arc of the pendulums, trajectory, velocity, angles, and building techniques. 

Then after awhile, the coffee cans were just getting in the way as the die-hards found that they preferred just throwing those balls to see what they could do. 

For instance, we found that if we threw the balls at just the right time with the right angle, we could get the lengths of twine to twist around one another. Others of us discovered that if we threw our balls hard enough we could get them to go all the way over the top of the cross bar, a feat that was consistently met with cheers.

The 3-5's class was next. The whole skittle bowling thing fell by the wayside even quicker as the kids fell out into two distinct groups: the kids who wanted to just swing those balls and the others who were more interested in using the coffee cans to build, then later knock down.

Far more of these buildings were knocked down the old fashioned way (with the palm of a hand) than with these new fangled swinging balls.

For the Pre-3 class, we didn't even bother with the coffee cans.

I thought I'd made pendulums, but what we really had here were a couple of automatic ball returns, an epiphany I had while watching those 2-year-olds throw their balls over and over and over.

Simple is good. Simpler is better.

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