Jan. 11, 2018 -- Students at Boulevard Elementary School like science so much that many of them enrolled in a week-long after school science club. Seventeen 3rd through 5th graders participated in Club Invention, a 90-minute program held for five consecutive days in December.
The program was modeled after a similar summer program offered by the school district called Camp Invention, which, according to the website “is one week when your child’s creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills are challenged and developed in fun and exciting ways.” Led by Boulevard’s science teacher Cheryl Walton, that is just what Club Invention did.
“I joined because I was interested in making new things and inventing things that will help make people’s lives easier,” said fourth grader Nala Simmons.
Fifth grader Nate Stafford had participated in the “really fun” camp last summer and “wanted to have another chance to have fun after school.”
The program focuses on one scientific concept per day, brought to life through three different hands-on activities. It follows a teaching approach that allows the students to explore and engage prior to having the content introduced. In other words, the students participate in an activity first which helps them formulate the scientific question asking why something happened the way it happened. This allows Ms. Walton to explain the concepts after students’ curiosity has been piqued, instead of before, as in a traditional classroom.
For example, as students were learning about gravity, force and motion, they participated in relay races in the gym. Trying to “resist gravity” by keeping balloons between their knees as they raced their neighbor across the floor, students had to apply good old trial-and-error techniques to figure out what might work. Hopping, as it turns out, was the most successful.
The second time through, students had to repeat the exercise while also balancing a beanbag on their heads. This introduced even more scientific concepts, such as friction, when students noticed that the beanbag was less likely to slide off the heads of children with frizzy, curly or thick hair than the heads of students with straight, fine hair.
The game also naturally lent itself to a discussion of static electricity as the balloon stuck to the pant legs of some children more than others.
Students then engaged in another fun relay race where they had to throw beanbags into small buckets as they ran from one end of the gym to another. Through careful observation of the runners in front of them, they learned that the more slowly one tossed their bean bag, the more likely it was to successfully land in the bucket. Otherwise, force was knocking all the buckets over and requiring the speediest runners to start over.
Students recognized that their own speed had an impact on the beanbag and its speed. In the post-game discussion, Nala said, “We’re running at a different speed than we’re throwing.” And Amir pointed out that “the speed you’re going makes it hard to predict where the bag will land.”
Ms. Walton introduced an important scientific concept, which was familiar to the children thanks to a common television commercial: “Objects in motion stay in motion.”
Back in the science classroom, students formed three groups to design ramps for a marble race. Except that the object was for your team’s marble to move the most slowly down their ramp and finish in last place. Students had to apply all they knew about friction to create obstacles using masking tape, straws, aluminum foil and craft sticks.
They manipulated materials, creating everything from speed bumps to pot holes and fences, all the while engaged in lively scientific discussions. Friendly but passionate arguing ensued, with students forced to back up their intentions, using what they know about traffic jams to guide their designs.
The groups tested their ramps at the very end of their session and were disappointed to find that their marbles moved very quickly over and around their obstacles. But, like scientists the world over, they knew they could come back the next day and make modifications before trying again.
Fourth grader Chelsea Gipson, who distinguished herself as a clear leader of her group, said, “While others were just placing as many obstacles as possible, I like to really think about the purpose of every object I create.”