Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Homemade Pinball Machine

Every man my age was once a boy who wished he had a pinball machine of his very own. 

I'm not a pinball wizard by any means, but the main reason that I stop off at Zesto's for a burger every now and then is that while I wait for "chef" to cook it, I get in a couple rounds on my favorite Fun House pinball machine, which I did a few nights ago on the way to a meeting. Yesterday, the children were playing with our marble run and right beside them stood our super sized marble paintings (as opposed to our super dooper sized marble painting). It occurred to me, as I watched the kids send fists full of marbles down the plastic tracks, that the painting part of those paintings had been secondary to the rolling around of the marbles. All those wires flapping around in my head finally made a kind of connection and I wondered if we could build our own pinball machine in preschool.

I started with this quirky building set that we've had forever . . .

The idea is to use screwdrivers, wrenches, nuts and long screws to assemble the pieces. I used some of the longer pieces to assemble a rim around some peg board a la our super sized marble paintings. (I've found that peg board is one of the more useful preschool construction materials because of all it's pre-drilled holes and the ease with which it can be cut.)

Dennis, George and Vivian's dad Terry was the parent teacher working the construction/tinkering station yesterday. I left him with this start, the building set, tools, and my idea that maybe the kids could create their own pachenko style pinball machine by attaching various obstacles to the peg board and rolling marbles through them.

Terry is a gifted natural teacher and tinkerer, so I was confident that even if it didn't result in anything like what I'd envisioned, the kids would have fun getting there. The children got right to work and before I knew it, they had this put together:

I'd figured they would work together or take turns tipping the finished apparatus this way and that as they had with the marble paintings, but instead, they installed it at a proper pinball machine angle in the beach hut on a pair of the large chunks of wood I scored a couple weeks back.

There are several moving parts, like "flippers," "catapults," and "launchers," that require regular resetting and fiddling, which made it endlessly fascinating to our builders, and explains why I could never get a photo of their creation without there being hands in the picture -- often moving very quickly.

The workbench cleared, Terry got the kids to work on a second machine, this time breaking out my 3/8" drill to convert regular pieces of wood for the purpose, puzzling together their own rim.

They also figured out that hammers could be used to get the screw through the holes without having to go through all that screwdriver twisting, something I'd learned my self while constructing the starting point.

We ran out of time and nearly out of screws (I'd purchased 80 of various lengths the day before). We'll have to finish up our second machine today.

At one point as Terry and I stood together watching the kids work. After confessing that he had also wished for a pinball machine in his bedroom as a boy, he said, "I've figured out that I have to let the kids play with the stuff on their own first before we try to build anything." When it comes to tinkering with preschoolers, that's the secret to success. I told you he's a natural teacher.

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Morgan said...

Dear Teacher Tom,

I would like to collaborate with you, or even just pick your brain.

When I am feeling uninspired, I go on your blog for help. Today, setting up my classroom, I felt like I was doing something wrong. I teach kids with special needs (K-3) in a public school and I just don't want my room to look like everyone else's rooms. I don't want to put up cutesy bulletin boards and welcome back signs. I don't want all the containers to match... I want everything in the room to be useful.

So, then I have these stupid bulletin boards... to be honest, last year, I left them blank. I left them blank under the premise that kids with special needs don't need one more thing clogging up their brains. They don't need busy patterns and craziness all around, so we covered them in nice black and white paper and hoped for a calming effect.

But today, I'm at a loss and I was hoping for some inspiration. If I could, I would gut my whole classroom and start over. I would throw out all the curriculum text books and worksheets and begin again. I'm trying. I shoved all those dumb books in lockers and hope to ignore them for the whole year. I want real learning to happen, not what Harcourt or Houghton Mifflin choose.

But what do I do with these stupid bulletin boards?

I wanted to write a great blog post about setting up a great classroom for students with special needs... but mine is lacking...

Help Teacher Tom!

Morgan Kolis

Scott said...

Really cool, Teacher Tom. I think I'll pick up some pegboard on the way home today....

Play for Life said...

You've just given me a really good idea!
Thanks Tom. :)
BTW ... I LOVE it!!!
Donna :) :)

GianneCurry said...

Wish I could send my girls to your preschool!

Marghanita Hughes said...

Brilliant as always.

Sheri said...

Teacher Tom, I really wish I had been in your classroom when I was a young child--what fun I would have had--and I wouldn't even have known I was learning! Thanks for the inspiration you pass along to us. :)

Busy Brissy Mum said...

It seemed to be the rage in our street to own a homemade pinball machine when I was a kid. They were made out of nails and rubber bands.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

This is fantastic! Just looking at it has started all kinds of ideas swirling through my head :)

Anonymous said...

That building set is really neat! I will make one for my kids.

May I post your pinball table on my site?