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Never Coasting with Collaboration

I'm going to keep the text of this blog short because the real action is in the videos in the Storify below!

Today was our final collaboration with Angela Patterson, Kate Sommerville, and TEAM Togetherness of the year.  We decided to take the marble roller coaster project we do over the course of a week in AP Physics to study conservation of energy, rotational motion, and centripetal forces and bring it to the 4th graders.  In order to scale down a 5 day activity into a 2 hour time frame, we changed the ultimate goal just a bit.

The design challenge for the teams was to build a marble coaster which had 3 obstacles. Obstacles could be hills, loops, jumps, or corkscrews.  Each team was made up of a group of 4th graders and 2 - 3 AP students serving as coaches.

The role of the coaches was to

  • Help complete the team’s vision and stay within the rules.
  • Aid in construction and making the 4th graders' design ideas a reality.
  • Let the 4th graders fail, help them understand why things failed, and how to learn from failure.
  • When helping, use science terminology to help students understand failures and move forward.

We scaled back the science content to the basics of the law of conservation of energy. The AP students were responsible for making sure every member of their team understood how conservation of energy applied to the project and the difference between potential and kinetic energy.

The atmosphere was infectious as groups feed on each other and used all kinds of materials that were in the learning lab. It was interesting how slowly the AP students were able to step back little by little as the 4th graders took entire process. Well, the taller AP kids were still the ones starting the marbles in most coasters.

In the end, all groups meet the design task and many exceeded it by adding even more obstacles! The cheers for completed runs were infectious. We were lucky to have such a great space to work in today.

Sad that this is my last collaboration with Kate and Angela. But, I couldn't imagine a better way of ending it for the year.

Here is a Storify highlighting our time together:

Keep scrolling through the story for some great slow motion videos shot by Kate Sommerville!

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