Learning about Physics – PBL – Week 2

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1.

Ronan tests out a spoon catapult that he made.

RG tests out a spoon catapult that he made.

I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about the projects, tinkering and knowledge construction that has been happening since last week. I feel that it’s too early for me to make bold declarations, but I will say that I think project-based learning works better in a group setting than at home. At least for the elementary-aged child. That’s all I have experience with and it might change as the kids get older, but right now the energy level and excitement that all of the kids bring to class fuels everyone else…even though their projects might be different. It’s a fabulous sight to behold.

In order to keep this post from becoming a veritable novel, I am trying to limit the discussion and reflections to just a few parts of each project. Even with another mom helping, I definitely think there were things that I “missed.” And perhaps that’s okay. Only time will tell.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
These boys decided early on that they wanted to build a catapult (it was one of the suggested projects, after all and what boy can resist that)? After some research last week and some playful discoveries on their own, they came together this week and decided to each make a few prototypes.

Three boys...three different designs.

Three boys…three different designs.

Catapult protoype made by Andrew.

Catapult protoype made by A.

Ryan tinkered with this design and added some force.

RC tinkered with this design and added some rubberband force.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
This is by far the sweetest group of kids – ever! And, I only say that because my 6-year-old is one of them. No, seriously, it is really cute, and yet amazing, to watch these two as they struggle to construct knowledge about simple machines in a unique way. After reading about pulleys and checking out this book from the library, the boys decided to reconstruct the picture on the front – using popsicle sticks, masking tape, plastic spoons and rubber bands.

A catapult prototype built by Greyson.

A catapult prototype built by G.

Testing out a theory - a self-made rubberband catapult/slingshot...every boy's dream. Made by Calum.

Testing out a theory – a self-made rubberband catapult/slingshot…every boy’s dream. Made by C.

Experiments on Gravity – two girls (one 11-year-old and one almost 8-year-old)
As often happens with a homeschool group – there seems to be a large number of boys and not so many girls. There’s a judgmental statement in there somewhere about the state of education, but I’ll let it pass for now. These girls had a plan, which I think was devised in week one, and they were doing a fabulous job of carrying it out. They each had checked out books from the library on gravity and were conducting various experiments to learn more about it. Although we did our best to bring supplies to play with in our borrowed space, there were still a number of materials that they needed. However, they made some concrete plans to conduct experiments on their own and to continue the trial and error at the next class meeting.

Gravity experiments are a great way to test out the concept of gravity.

Gravity experiments are a great way to test out the concept of gravity.

Building a Windmill – one ten-year-old boy
After speaking to this child’s mom, I confirmed that N did all of the research, sketching and designing on his own. (His mother did give him some reminders – he is still ten)! I am beyond impressed with the path that he is on to create a windmill out of sticks. He was so focused that I didn’t spend much time observing him and I wished I had. He didn’t need any help, but I definitely missed an opportunity to watch the process of “flow” in action.

Hand sketches made by Nick.

Hand sketches made by N.

Hand-drawn and labelled by Nick.

Hand-drawn and labelled by N.

Starting to build a windmill with sticks.

Starting to build a windmill with sticks.

At the end of our time – and when you could tell some of the kids were getting hungry – I made a point to visit all of the groups and asked them to tell me their plans for next week. I wrote these plans down on a clipboard that I had left at each group table. While some of the groups were keeping their own notes, I knew that some were not. By leaving out a notebook and writing down their observations and plans, we can ensure that the adults have the supplies that the kids need – and if they get stuck at the next meeting we can read their words back to them.

To keep reading about their progress, click on Physics & Projects – Week 3.