As children experiment with building ramps for balls, they are gaining one of their first introductions to the laws of physics. Through trying out ramps with different heights and lengths, the students are learning about the forces of motion and gravity at a practical level. For example, I saw a child make a very steep ramp that the ball would roll down and then bounce high into the air as it hit the ground. When I asked him why he thought that was happening, he said, “Oh, it bounces because it is going straight down.” He then proceeded to add an additional section of ramp that branched off of the steeper ramp part of the way down. This new ramp, because of its lesser angle, allowed the ball to roll once it reached the end of the ramp.
With hands‐on learning projects, children are forced to experiment with different solutions when problems arise. With this activity, there are a variety of ways that students adapt to the speci9ic needs of the problem they are working with. When the balls bounce out of ramps, children use their problem solving skills to come up with solutions like building walls to ricochet the balls. They create baskets to catch the balls so that they don’t roll out of the room. Some even create jumps to launch the ball higher into the air. Through this play‐based problem solving, not only are the children having fun, but they are also learning fundamental concepts of physics.
To enhance the ball and ramp learning experience, we had the children create ball and ramp designs, including writing and/or dictating what they have included in their drawing. Children wrote words like Start, Ball, and End to incorporate literacy into the activity. They also used representational thinking to connect what they had created to what they drew. Not only is this a great way for children to re9lect on what they built, it is also a way to reinforce their thinking and to learn through a different modality (i.e. different types of learners).
Reflection: Not only do balls and ramps touch on fundamental concepts of math, science and literacy, there is important social learning that happens, as well. We have found that through ball and ramp play it has, at times, built a sense of camaraderie through the great excitement that the children have when they have worked together to build a ramp that they are proud of. As children work together, compromise, take turns, problem solve, and pick up each others balls to give them back to who was using them, they learn to engage, trust each other, and appreciate the ideas of other people.
My name is Rachel Foley and I live in Warren with my husband, Luke, our 3 year old daughter, Nora, our 1 year old son, Tobin, and a black lab named Dozer. We have been in the Valley for the past 7 years and absolutely love the great community and tremendous beauty of this area. Prior to taking the position at Fayston, I was a teacher and assistant director at Spring Hill School in Waitsfield. I have also worked with children of all ages in numerous other capacities including summer camps, environmental education centers, and 1.5 years in the deserts of Utah, where I worked with at-risk teens in a wilderness therapy company. I am originally from Pittsburgh, but feel like I have really found my place here in the Mad River Valley.