Friday, April 01, 2011

"What Kind Of Force?"

I've included examples in two recent posts about how the children at Woodland Park are teaching one another to do things like make paper clip chains and mix up potions. I don't know if we've been building all along to this synergistic point in the school year or if it's just recently come to my attention -- probably some of both -- but I'm noticing it everywhere these days.

On Tuesday, as a kind of time-killer while we were waiting for a couple of our slower eaters to finish their lunches, I demonstrated for the Pre-K class how if you put one of our every day cars in a hamster wheel and spin it fast enough, centrifugal force will cause the car to "defy gravity" and "stick" to the wheel. We all got a turn, and we were each successful in making this kind of magic happen. The lunch boxes having all been put away, I then unceremoniously set the hamster wheel and cars aside, atop a low cabinet, and we went about our day.

Yesterday, as Isak played alone, spinning the wheel, recreating the experiment, he noticed Jasper watching from a few steps back.

"Jasper, look what happens," he said, carefully putting the wooden car in place and giving the wheel a spin. "The car goes upside down."

Jasper responded to this as an invitation and stepped up to the cabinet for a closer look as the wheel slowed and the car fell.

Isak continued, "You put the car right here, then spin it," demonstrating once more, this time with step-by-step instructions.

It was clear to me that Jasper had seen enough and wanted to give it a go. I was on the verge of saying, "I think Jasper wants to try it," when Isak took the words out of my mouth, "Jasper, do you want to try it?" handing her a car.

As Jasper fiddled with getting the car into the wheel, Isak instructed, "Put it right there. You have to put it so the wheels are down or it will fly out. Now spin it!"

Her first attempt wasn't forceful enough and the car fell. Isak said, "You have to spin it faster." He couldn't keep his hands off the car, so he replaced it for her.

On her next attempt, she overcompensated, knocking the hamster wheel onto the floor. Isak picked it up, positioned it, saying, "I'll show you again," which he did, this time pointing out, "I'm holding the bottom so it doesn't fall."

Jasper's third attempt was a success. As she beamed, Isak said, "That's cent . . . Teacher Tom, what kind of force?"

"Centrifugal force."

He mangled the word a bit in repeating it to Jasper, but it's a hard word to say.

After a few more attempts Jasper was done and went on to other things, but Isak stayed at the hamster wheel. Before long he tracked me down to let me know that he'd discovered that it worked with two cars as well. Later he insisted I come over to see with my own eyes that it worked with 3 cars too.

Still later, he was excited to learn, "It's works with a kaleidoscope too!"

This is how I tell people it's supposed to work in a multi-aged classroom. But man, it's as magical as centrifugal force every time I see it in action.

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Unknown said...

What a fun thing to watch happen. Children inviting each other to learn and try. Beautiful.

Wishing you the happiest Friday and weekend.

Love, Becky

satyamara said...

the children are are blessed to get to witness that everyday...and even participate a little ;)

Unknown said...

here in New Zealand we call that tuakana-teina - children acting as teachers and students for each other, using their strengths to learn from their peers

Emma said...

I think it's great that you are helping young children to think about force and motion by introducing new words to them, but I am curious as to why you choose "centrifugal". Centrifugal or "center-fleeing" force is fictional - it is the product of inertia and a lack of centripetal ("center-seeking") force. This is a common misconception about physics, especially because the sensation we feel when moving around a curve is so compellingly "outward." But the real physics of the matter is that objects always prefer to move in straight lines and the force we feel when going around a curve is that of some centripetal force (from the road, or the wheel, or what have you) forcing our straight trajectory into a circular path. Thus the sensation is the result of intertia, and the circular path is the result of centripetal force.

Of course this distinction doesn't matter to young children and it won't for a very, very long time. I just thought it might be interesting to give them the more precise terminology if you're going to give terminology at all.

On an unrelated note, I absolutely love this blog. I study math and science learning and it gets so tiring to constantly reduce everything to measurements and statistical significance. It is refreshing to read about teaching and learning without worrying about how things will "measure up." Thanks for writing so often and so well!

Teacher Tom said...

Ha! Well Emma, I used "centrifugal" because that's what I though it was! It's "centripetal" from now on, although I know I'll have to argue about it with parents. I will send them to your comment for explanation! =)

Thanks for your kind words.