Guest post by Ihuoma Iheukwumere, Site Director at Transbay Child Development Center. Ihuoma is passionate about providing effective and robust learning experiences for young learners while empowering the educators who work with them to do the same. She spent the first decade+ in the classroom, always looking to take the children on a journey for the next STEM project. In her leadership role, Ihuoma is focused on bringing to life the vision of a school where STEM is not just approachable but a great springboard for student achievement. She is committed to improving equitable access and delivery of educational experiences to a diverse audience of early learners.
Our preschool classroom started an exploration of balls and ramps using pegboards in late summer 2020. With the transition of new children from the toddler classroom into the preschool space in October 2020, the staff discovered that our newest preschoolers were also interested, however they had a harder time manipulating the pegboards - putting in/pulling out the pegs and balancing the tracks using the grooves.
Our friends from the Exploratorium introduced us to some new materials (Soft foam balls and the book Carrot and Pea) that have the potential to support our younger learners to be comfortable and confident exploring this subject while encouraging the older children to delve a little deeper.
We like to think that Carrot and Pea is the most non-threatening book to present the idea of working with ramps, bridges and towers to young children. The presentation of science concepts using familiar foods is brilliant. The unlikely friendship between Colin the carrot (a rectangular prism) and Lee the Pea (a sphere) created the window of opportunity for us to have conversations about the properties of each shape and what was possible.
Exploring Lee, the Pea
The staff had a planning meeting to take our unique classroom into consideration. Considering that we have a mixed age classroom (2yo 6mos to 5yo) a wide range of skill sets, and some English Language Learners, we decided to introduced one material at a time to get them fluent in it. We also used the K-W-L teaching strategy to assess what they know about balls before and after they had engaged with it.
"The pea is a sphere. It rolls and bounces" - Levon
Reading from the book, Carrot and Pea introduced the children to some new vocabulary words describing the properties of a ball. Roll and Bounce.
The staff observed that some of our children didn’t understand what bounce meant. While most of them could not verbally describe what bounce meant.
Teacher: What does bounce mean?
Jaion (5yo): She gesticulates waving her arms up and down from side to side.
Jai (5yo): “It’s when the ball goes into the hoop.” He stands using one hand in an up and down motion (like a basketball).
Kylie: “It’s like this. That’s bounce” (she makes a jumping motion with her whole body).
Teacher: “So what is happening? If I take this ball and wave my hands and jump is it bouncing?"
Students laugh and say no. They took another chance verbalizing their thinking.
Kylie: “You have to hold it up”
Jai: “You have to drop it down and it will bounce.”
This allowed us to define bounce as “what happens when you drop a ball and it hits another surface (ex. Floor or Wall) and it comes back.”
They were excited to try it out. Each child received a ping pong ball and it was an explosive burst of exploration. Children were very engaged in exploring the phenomenon of bouncing. The teachers supported them observe what happens when the ball bounces, how high it can bounce and how fast it bounced.
The hands on activity supported them make real connections to the word bounce. Also deconstructing the movements required to achieve a bounce supported them to make the connections quickly. Children organically found new ways to make the ball bounce higher. They started throwing the balls up and letting it fall, tossing over their heads, throwing it at the wall to create a series of bounces. The staff supported them answer these questions:
- How high can you bounce the ball?
- What did you do to make the ball bounce higher?
- What else did you find out about the ball?
The staff posed another question to the children. “What other ways can you move the ball if the ball is at rest and isn’t moving?” They pondered on this question. We observed that they struggled to express themselves verbally relying on non-verbal cues to show their understanding.
Jaion: “I can move it with a stick.
Teacher: “I agree. What if you don’t have a stick?”
Jai: “The ball moves when you touch it.”
Jason: (Demonstrates rolling the ball letting it roll off his finger tips)
Jaion: “You need to push it!”
Other peers start to roll their balls using different styles. Pushing on it or rolling off their fingers.
Teacher Van: What happens when the ball rolls and hits the wall?
It took the children a minute while observing what happens when the ball hits the wall. Then they all yelled, “It BOUNCED!”
This moment was really pivotal because not only were they truly observing but they had arrived at the conclusion that it would change direction not only vertically but horizontally. This knowledge they would need further down the road in their exploration.
After several days of exploration a child excitedly tells the teacher, “I have two more new ways of moving the ball. You can let the air blow on it by itself or you can blow air with your mouth. Do you see?” - James
The uncertainty the children faced seemed to recede as the staff provided ample time to explore the phenomenon of bouncing. Providing vocabulary and thinking prompts supported them to express themselves. The initial use of ping pong balls was successful for children to understand the word bounce because ping pong balls have an exaggerated bounce compared to the soft foam balls. They became confident and started tinkering on their own as they played, figuring out other ways to manipulate the balls to bounce and roll. Having the book available to revisit the pictures was also helpful. We are off to a great start.