Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Giant Pendulum

We experimented with the giant pendulum this week.

The basic idea is a foam ball hung from the ceiling with a piece of rope. The idea is to swing the pendulum so that it knocks down a block construction, but with the added challenge of having to swing it around the construction pylon.

A vital part of this is to include a box upon which the kids could stand, and from which they could launch the pendulum when it was their turn. Without the box, the tendency is for the kids to gradually creep closer and closer to their target until they are essentially just whacking the block buildings with a ball on a string. Yes, an adult could be stationed there to harp on them about where to stand ("Behind the line," "Go back 3 steps . . . one more," etc.), but the box is a sort of autopilot way to keep them at a distance from which they can explore the motion of a pendulum. It's always nice to find ways to avoid bossing the kids around.

This was an experiment that involved finding out if it made a difference to start by
throwing the ball from "behind my head."

For most of the children, the first attempt resulted in a direct hit on the construction pylon, but as they became familiar with the predictable motion of a ball hanging from a rope, they were all able to figure out how to hit their target. The pendulum is a more complex thing than is at first apparent to our adult perceptions.

We also learned quite a bit about construction, discovering that it is possible to build things that were too solid to be knocked down by a mere foam ball. Much more satisfying were those built with spindly bases and heavy tops.

Although those kinds of buildings are particularly difficult to build when in a hurry and in cooperation with several other little bodies jostling and clamoring to add "just one more."

More than one building fell long before the foam ball got to it because the intentional precariousness went a little too far.

In the end, the science of the pendulum was secondary to the practice the kids were getting in cooperative play: taking turns, building together, choosing roles, and resolving conflicts. That's the way science works in preschool.

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Cait said...

Have you tried pendulum painting with a yoghurt pot of paint suspended on string? Great fun - if you don't want to use paint it works equally well with salt or anything that pours. It shows the 'spirograph' nature of the pendulum. Great fun too!!

Juliet Robertson said...

Love the idea! I know how I can adapt it for an outdoor experience! Thanks Tom for another piece of inspiration!

Teacher Tom said...

Yes, Cait, and what fun it is:

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