There is a big, long story of how it came to be that me, my good friend Denise and our other good friends Ty and Kim found ourselves teaching physics to a squirrely bunch of 8-12 year olds. That story is interesting but not nearly as interesting as this class has turned out to be. First off, a group of 22 high energy homeschool kids with varying backgrounds and experience levels, requires certain considerations. Team dynamics, project difficulty, etc. and I know I’ve learned a lot and should I ever teach a class like this it will be even better. And it’s super hard for me to accept that there are things I couldn’t foresee and that everything takes practice, especially when you are doing something that’s never been done before. Wait. You already knew that? Oh.
We wanted to do physics challenges where the kids would get some very hands on experience with different principles. Also fun. We wanted them to have fun. So each class is a different challenge with a set objective, prefaced by a short, flashy demonstration that is usually chosen because there are some freaking awesome things you can do with physics! Our whole goal is to expose the kids to the joys of science so that hopefully they will leave more curious about the world around them.
The duct tape challenge was first on the list, as a good simple introduction to the whole idea of a physics challenge class. Kids were put into teams and each team was given a roll of duct tape. The objective was to see which teach could build the tallest freestanding structure.
But first there were three demonstrations to show some important principles: Synergy, Friction, and Balance. After those they got to work. It was pretty cool to see them stretched a bit out of their comfort zones and have to figure out things like getting it off the roll in the first place (one person holding the tape and the other person running across the room with the roll was a very popular method), dealing with the inherent floppy-ness of duct tape, and the ever looming stickiness problem.
Most of the teams ended up abandoning any plan they may have had in favor of the “stack of tape wads” method (see left), however, the winners (right) did not and their design ultimately was the tallest by a long shot.
They did have some stiff competition from this tower in the center of the left picture, but it didn’t stand up for the requisite minute.. The kids seemed to have fun and my little girls were much happier supervising construction than they were playing with the other littles.
Next up was rubber band cars! These taught us, as teachers, probably the foremost rule that one should internalize about the modern class room: if it looks easy on YouTube it probably is stupid hard in real life. Also axles that don’t buckle is kind of vital for a vehicle of any sort.
Denise started with examples of force and differences in air pressure.
We watched some videos then turned them loose on a table full of stuff. Two of the teams (out of 8) ended up with cars that could go a few feet.
Ultimately though, it was a lesson in how sometimes things just don’t work and that little details make all the difference. The kids were very good sports and most of them stuck with it even in the face of abject failure. As a side note, I really like all the kids in our group and hopefully there will be many more cool things in store for us with these families.
Next up is the Egg Drop and Popsicle Stick Bridges and my musings on kids and the need to play!