Early Childhood

Ramps--building structures to explore physical science and engineering concepts

Children love to make objects move on ramps--those in the preschool I work in and the elementary students in the after-school class I teach, and their families at school Science Nights. With a set of blocks, boxes, ramps and small objects (both spherical and other shapes) they build structures, test them and re-design them to meet their various goals. Here are some common goals: to make as long a ramp as possible, to make a marble go fast, to have a ball fall into a cup, to race two objects, and to build a "castle" ramp. The activity appeals to most children, it's available for direct exploration and drawn from the environment in which they live, the concepts they investigate are important to science, the focus is on concepts that are developmentally appropriate, and can be explored from multiple perspectives, in depth, and over time. These are criteria that researchers at the Education Development Center found important through their work at many public preschools and elementary schools. Children develop their understanding of the practices of science and engineering as they build, use, make changes and test their ramps over time. The NSTA Early Childhood Science Education position statement emphasizes that children need numerous opportunities every day, and need opportunities for sustained engagement with materials and conversations that focus on the same set of ideas over weeks, months, and years. http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/earlychildhood.aspx (The NSTA position statement was endorsed by NAEYC.) Let's share resources and our experiences teaching using this activity. I'll start with two resources: *The University of Northern Iowa Regents' Center for Early Developmental Education's "Ramps and Pathways" website. http://www.uni.edu/rampsandpathways/ The developers of this curriculum generously trained others to share this activity with early childhood educators outside of Iowa, including me! The the FAQs on their website to help get you started. *The Peep and the Big Wide World website, has very good professional development resources for early childhood educators, guided by the Science Adviser, Karen Worth. The video clips on the topics of Science Talk, Learning Environments, Individualized Instruction, and Documentation and Reflection are my favorite part of the extensive library that includes curriculum on ramps as well as on the topics of color, plants, shadows, sound, and water. A Self-Guided training handout and Facilitator’s Guide and PowerPoint slides guide us in deepening our own and other’s understanding of the strategies in the curriculum units. http://peepandthebigwideworld.com/en/educators/curriculum/family-child-care-educators/14/ramps/ Our role as educators who provide these materials is described in the position statement. Here is just one of the key principles: -Adults play a central and important role in helping young children learn science. Everyday life is rich with science experiences, but these experiences can best contribute to science learning when an adult prepares the environment for science exploration, focuses children’s observations, and provides time to talk about what was done and seen (NAEYC 2013, p. 18). It is important that adults support children’s play and also direct their attention, structure their experiences, support their learning attempts, and regulate the complexity and difficulty of levels of information (NRC 2007, p. 3). It’s equally important for adults to look for signs from children and adjust the learning experiences to support their curiosity, learning, and understanding. Let's share resources, and our experiences and photos of this meaningful STEM activity. Peggy

Peggy Ashbrook
Margaret Ashbrook
8395 Activity Points

Hi Peggy- I've used the picture book "Sheep in a Jeep" with my 3 and 4 year olds prior to exploring rolling and sliding with ramps. I know it is used in the Picture Perfect series, but I use it a little more informally. I have a collection of different shaped blocks, and recycled containers that we send down short ramps made from old poster presentation boards or lunch room trays. I label 2 pieces of butcher paper, one Roll, the other Slide and then model trying out different containers or blocks. I trace the shape of a rolling object and the shape of a sliding object and then let the kids try. It is a nice way to combine a science concept with fine and gross motor skills to trace shapes. They also have a very good visual when we are done of circles that roll and other shapes that slide. I don't know where I got the idea for this activity, but I know I didn't create it. We've also done the marble rollercoaster activity with the halves of pipe insulation at family science nights. EVERYONE loves this, no matter the age. I provide masking tape, marbles and the flexible tubing and away they go. Again, a very good idea that I borrowed along the way! Looking forward to seeing what others contribute- I am working on curriculum maps for this topic for Kindergarten and Preschool.

Sarah Benton Feitlinger
Sarah Benton
1750 Activity Points

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