EXPLORATORIUM INSTITUTE FOR INQUIRY

©1998 The Exploratorium

Parachutes

ADAPTING AND IMPROVING CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES

FIGURE 3

(taken from Wynne Harlen's book The Teaching of Science in Primary Schools)

There are many ways that activities can be changed. Look at the Parachute activity for example:

Encouraging attitudes - stimulating curiosity - The parachute activity might begin with the experience of throwing several parachutes, of different sizes and even shapes, and noticing how they fall. The question as to why the differences would inevitably be raised.

Opportunity for skill development - Opportunities for children to develop their process skills are limited by the lack of any investigation once the parachute is constructed. There are variables which affect the fall of the parachute, such as shape, area and length of strings, which children should explore in a controlled way as they test out various ideas about why there are differences between one and another.

Working cooperatively and combining ideas - There could be instructions for pooling ideas within a group, planning how find out 'what happens if...' and preparing a group report to others. At intervals in the work, the children should meet together as a class to listen to reports of each others' progress and share ideas.

Opportunity for scientific concept development - A main point of this activity is to enable children to recognize the role of air in slowing down the fall of the parachute. With this in mind it would, therefore, be useful for children to observe how quickly the parachute falls when it is not allowed to open. Exploration of larger and smaller parachutes might further children's idea about the effect of the air. The question of why the parachute falls at all could also be discussed leading to a recognition of the main forces acting on the parachute when it is falling. Giving the 'answer' to why the parachute moves slowly is not allowing the children to use and explore their own ideas; so this part should be omitted.

Relating to real life and everyday experience - The uses of air resistance are many and not restricted to parachute descents from aircraft. They can relate to everyday events, such as riding a bicycle in strong wind and the 'helicopter' wings of sycamore seeds seen drifting gently to the ground.

Modifying this activity will undoubtedly take up more time. This has to be balanced by the much greater learning which takes place.