Ramps and pathways: Fun physical science

For several years, early childhood physical science workshops, such as Ramps and Pathways, for early childhood teachers across Iowa and the country have been offered. The experience with Ramps and Pathways began in a university-run laboratory school in Waterloo, Iowa, serving primarily children from minority cultures whose families have low incomes and tested the project activities with pre-K through second grade teachers and children in a variety of settings. Experiences have proven that activities involving inclined planes are possibly the best science activities ever encountered. These activities engage children in investigations involving force and motion, foster the development of important science inquiry skills, and provide numerous opportunities for integration across curricular domains. One of the primary goals of science education, by teachers implementing these activities in their classrooms, encourages children to investigate and inquire different ideas and varying their actions. Three main points supporting Ramps and Pathways is that it is environmentally (classroom) friendly, six main reasons why teachers are encouraged to learn, understand, and implement Ramps and Pathways into the classroom, and science success.

The simplicity of Ramps and Pathways makes it environmentally (classroom) friendly. The only materials required for hours of science fun is a piece of 1 3/4inch wide and 18 inch long wood cove molding, marbles in a verity of sizes (allowing children to compare the movement of large and small marbles), the best place for the ramps is in the block center or any place allowing plenty of space for creativity, and The National Science Education Standards stress that "building scientific understanding takes time on a daily basis and over the long term" (NRC 1996, 44). Children need time to revisit ideas, reflect on what they have done, and revise their thinking.

Six main reasons why teachers are encouraged to learn, understand, and implement Ramps and Pathways into the classroom:

  1. Teachers need experiences with classroom materials to understand the possibilities for learning. An important aspect of the learning in Ramps and Pathways is the connections made between actions and reactions.
  2. Effective learning environments inspire interests and ideas and allow children to try out their ideas. According to Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS 1993), children should be actively involved in exploring phenomena that interest them. The importance of interest in young children's learning cannot be overstated. Piaget ([1954]1981) said interest is the fuel that drives the motor of mental activity, much like gasoline powers an engine. Young children who are captivated and engaged in an activity can maintain their attention span for a greater period of time; the teacher's role is to support continued inquiry by intervening with questions or comments that inspire experimentation and refrain from correction.
  3. To accurately understand and assess children's reasoning, teachers must observe children closely. Close observation is the only way teachers can learn how children are thinking and design appropriate interventions and variations.
  4. Support children's investigations and conceptual development with interventions that focus on reasoning rather than right answers. Young children's investigations often lead to common erroneous ideas, as the science education community refers to as "preconceptions". Teachers experienced in supporting inquiry know how to encourage experimentation so that children can correct their preconceptions through acting on objects and observing the results of their actions.
  5. Sharing experiences and the results of investigations strengthens science learning as well as the development of communication. Experimenting and making errors are vital to the process of scientific inquiry. They require an environment in which children are free to collaborate and take risks. During group time, teachers can invite children to reflect on what they have done in the ramps center.
  6. Ramp activities offer multiple opportunities to integrate other curriculum areas. One of the most valuable aspects of a ramp project is the ease with which it addresses other areas of the curriculum such as mathematics, literacy, social studies, and art and architecture.

Concluding science success in the classroom, it has been reported by teacher's as a positive and powerful tool full of challenging strategies, collaboration, individualized ideas, problem solving, and of course hours of fun for young children. Teachers have also reported that ramp building has decreased behavior problems in their classroom. Three main points supporting Ramps and Pathways is that it is environmentally (classroom) friendly, six main reasons why teachers are encouraged to learn, understand, and implement Ramps and Pathways into the classroom, and science success. Ramps and Pathways is one of the best science activities for engaging both young children and their teachers in inquiring learning.

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