A lesson in momentum, teamwork
Cerbat Elementary class takes a hands-on approach to physics
KINGMAN - Jenelle Pape's classroom at Cerbat Elementary School was an unusual sight last week. All around the room, large, multi-colored ramps and slides jutted from the walls and across the desktops, with nearly two-dozen fourth- and fifth-graders scrambling around them, testing, looking for faults, adjusting, then re-testing.
Hey, who says science can't be fun?
Last Thursday marked the conclusion of a two-week physics project in Pape's class for talented and gifted students. The students had been tasked with constructing a track made completely from paper and tape that could support a small metal or wooden car. The object of the assignment, students said, was to construct a track in such a way that the car could make it to the end without falling off.
"Ms. Pape did it to see if the car has enough momentum to go through the whole track," explained fifth-grader Krista Ball.
"We're into a unit on forces of motion," Pape added. "It's fun, hands-on science."
But it was a lot of work, too. According to fifth-grader Jessica Brooks, the first day of the assignment was all about planning - figuring out how many notecards, paper towel rolls and pieces of tape they would need, then determining where the car would start from, and how it would make its way down the track without careening off into space or just stopping halfway.
"It matters where you put the car, because sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," noted fourth-grader Evan Forbes.
More than once, students said they had to disassemble their track and start all over from a new angle. Fortunately, however, they had a lot of help putting the pieces back together.
"Most of the groups helped a lot of other groups," said fifth-grader Steven Mucklow.
Pape said the point of the experiment was to give students a better understanding of the fundamental forces of motion, and on that score, the project was an overall success.
"As they're working, one of the things they kept noticing was how their car would flip over, but still go down the track," she said. "I'd ask them, 'What made it keep going?' and they'd say 'Momentum.'"
But while students were able to take away some of the basics of acceleration, friction and gravity, they also learned an important lesson about how much more they can accomplish by working together, instead of by themselves.
"It takes a lot of teamwork to do all this," said fourth-grader Denise Wiley.
"You can't just do it by yourself, because you need someone to hold stuff while you tape it," Ball added.
And that, Pape said, may be the most important lesson of all.
"The biggest thing I look for, more than the science even, is the cooperative work," she said.