Physical Science Comes Alive: Exploring Things that Go

This project creates eight half-year units in two subject areas—Force and Motion, and Energy Systems— for three grade bands, pre-K–1, 2-3 and 4–6. These projects integrate engineering, science, math literacy and art in the context of design, construction and testing of toys using inexpensive or recycled materials.

Project Evaluator: 
Dr. Marie Hoepfl
Full Description: 

 The goals of the project are to develop and support the use of materials that promote integration of engineering with science, math, literacy and art in the elementary grades. Children engage in designing, making and testing their own devices. These include cardboard mechanisms that animate stories; paper pop-ups; gravity-, elastic- and electric-powered cars, and gadgets with hidden switches that produce light, sound and/or motion when opened or closed. Through these activities, students develop facility with materials, plus an understanding of systems, models, design, constraints, redesign and troubleshooting, which are core concepts in engineering education. Physics concepts include motion, force and energy. Writing is an essential component of the project, and of science education generally.

There are eight curriculum units in two sets of four each, under the headings of Force & Motion and Energy Systems. Each set consists of one unit each for grades K-1 and 2-3, and two units for 4-5. Classroom sets for the units cost between $100 and $300 apiece, and many of the materials can be acquired by recycling instead of purchase. As part of the Energy Systems Curriculum, students create gravity-powered cars in the K-1 unit Invent-a-Wheel, wind-up vehicles in the 2nd-3rd grade unit Fantastic Elastic, and electric cars in 4th and 5th grades in the EnerJeeps unit. In the course of this work students write their own equipment lists, instruction manuals, trouble-shooting guides and analyses of how their devices work. The analysis leads directly to basic concepts of physical science. When students operate their wind-ups, for example, they experience the use of their own power to store energy in a rubber band, and witness its release as kinetic energy when they let it go.