Physics in the Young Child’s Classroom

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

~ Albert Einstein

All children come to school with a rich background of experiences that have shaped who they are. I value all of those experiences in the Science Classroom/ Makerspace.

Students will use new and interesting materials to explore phenomena and the scientific theme of Physics through Balls and Ramps. They will observe, question, analyze and communicate their thoughts and record their findings through writing. Students will process their experiments for meaning through discussions, charts and in their notebook pages.

The first theme we will explore are the properties and characteristics of balls. Students observe, use, and compare different balls. We will examine the size, material and weights of different types on balls. Students have started using balls this week to bounce, weigh, and roll them. We are constructing stable ramps to test the balls on ramps.

The second theme will explore the different variables that affect the way balls behave. We will look at properties and characteristics balls. We will students will explore how balls are affected by gravity, inertia, momentum and friction.

Below are some photos of our young physicists at Work-Play in the Makerspace!


What’s In a House?

“Nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.”


Kindergarten Architects Planning and Creating Their Houses

Kindergarten students are developing tree houses and fairy houses as part of the Paper and Wood Unit. To start off our exploration into this unit, we first read from the Engineers at Work book series. Students engaged in a discussion about each stage of the engineering design process and how we will go about following that process to create tree houses and fairy houses. Students asked questions around how to build one, what materials they will have at their disposal, and the timeframe for starting and finishing them.
I responded to their questions using the Habits of Mind.
  • Start with an idea of creating a tree house or fairy house – Who is going to use my fairy house or tree house? What will I need in it? How will I get power to my fairy house or tree house?
  • Create a blueprint – Where do I want to place my model on my cardboard? Where will I create a path? 
  • Design the landscaping around my tree house or fairy house – What do I want around the outside of my tree house or fairy house? 
  • Create my tree house or fairy house – What materials will I use?
  • Write about my tree house or fairy house – What problems did I run into, and how did I solve them? How did I persevere when my ideas didn’t work out?
  • Reflect on and assess my tree house or fairy house – Do I want to make changes? What do I want to do differently next time?
  • My tree house or fairy house – What am I most proud of? Now that I have finished this, what do I want to create next?
The next step was for the students to create a blueprint for what they wanted to construct. We researched tree houses and fairy house through books, video clips, and colored photographs featuring examples of treehouse and fairy houses from all over the world. We also revisited our simple machines unit and students asked if they could construct zip-lines for their tree houses and fairy houses. They wanted to be able to zip in and out of places. Students used Lego bricks to construct models and to test their ideas regarding angles, speed, and heights. They did their tests around the Makerspace and in the hallways of the school.


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Landscaping:  What is it? Who does it? Why is it important?

We read a big book entitled Tony Builds a House. After the story, we went back to the landscaping page and dove into a very rich conversation about landscaping. Students were able to connect landscapes and their families look. We looked at photos from calendars and other books. Students also talked about the simple machines in the story, ramp and wheels because the main character was in a wheelchair. Kindergarten came up with other ideas for Tony. The wanted to build Tony a treehouse for his back yard to play with his sisters and neighbors. All agreed to build him an elevator pulley, a wheel chair seesaw so he could play with it near his treehouse and a lighter wheel chair like the table top treehouse bears that we use at that center. I purchased a tree house activity where kids have to problem-solve ways to make each level of the treehouse stable. Students have been making connections from the simple machines unit, and are applying the knowledge they gained to their tree houses and fairy houses!

Fairy Houses

We read a few books and conducted research on Tracy Kane, a fairy house artist and builder. She made a video on building tree houses, and so we incorporated this resource into our research. In the video, Tracy mentions that she would pick a spot in the woods with her niece, and would begin to observe the animals living in that environment. Once she was ready to create her fairy house, she would start by drawing pictures with a pencil. Then, she used colored pencils (like our Young STEAM Inventors) to color in her creations. She would write little stories about what the animals were doing in the woods. There was one story we thought was funny where a frog jumped out of a nearby pond and into one of the fairy houses. Tracy describes in the video how there was one time that she went with her niece to build a fairy house near the beach with found materials. They used sand, water, and shells to build castle-like fairy houses. It was cool to watch!



“Some of us want to build fairy houses, and some of us want to build tree houses. We get to choose which one we want to build. That’s all we wanted to say. We want to build.”

Tree Houses

We talked about tree houses by connecting it to the “Building a Treehouse” video I showed of Sid the Science Kid. This particular episode focused on pulleys, which is a simple machine. We watched as Sid and his Dad used the Engineering Design Process to solve the problem of bringing items up into the tree house. The students were very engaged with the episode; in fact, they were talking to the television and telling the characters different things they believed were important to say. They wanted to let it be known that they were engineers and that they could figure out any problem by coming up with a few good ideas and testing them out. We also read various books on the subject, such as Way Up In the Treehouse: A True Story of the Central Park Treehousesas well as Tony Built a Treehouse. At the end, I made sure to let the students know that each of their tree house and fairy house projects would need to incorporate at least one simple machine.
Students then stepped into the shoes of a landscaper and decided on what they wanted to design. We looked at colored photographs of tree houses for inspiration, and each student used their own creative ideas to design the landscaping for their tree house.  They started cutting out green paper for grass, made trees with sticks and clay, and built outdoor furniture, seesaws, paths, bushes. Some students started building their tree houses using interlocking pop-cycle sticks and colored sticks for their foundation. Their comments to me were: “The tree house has to be stable, or it will fall!”



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The Science of Animal Habitats

While the “big kids” designed tree houses and fairy houses, K0/K1 Young STEAM Inventors have been studying animals that live in wetlands, streams, and dams. They’ve read books of different animals who live near water sources and who make habitats out of natural materials, such as mud and sticks.


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Preschool Engineers Engaged in Making

Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It’s posing questions and coming up with a method. It’s delving in.

~ Sally Ride


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Engineering Lesson with Legos

Using the Engineering Design Process, students read a blueprint, constructing a launcher and spinning top, making and recording their predictions and guiding questions to explore and think like scientists! They worked in pairs and had to predict which of the two spinning tops they built would spin long or longer.

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For Part 2 of this activity, students created their own spinners. They used the data they recorded in Part 1 and create their own spinning top with cardboard and one of their tops.

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Young STEAM Inventors as Robotics Engineers

Students wanted to create robots, and so their classroom teacher served as a facilitator for their explorations. See their creations in the slideshow below.

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Wind, Marble Runs, and Scientific Inquiry

“If a kid shows a spark in anything, we need to help stoke that fire. When a student reaches a hard concept in math or science, we should model perseverance by helping them break down the challenge into smaller steps.”

~ astronaut Scott Kelly in a recent Time Magazine article


Blowing in the Wind

During the week before April Break, Grade 1 continued studying the unit on Weather. We delved deep into the study of wind. We read fiction and non-fiction stories about the wind. We experimented with various wind tools, such as anemometers to capture wind speed, parachutes, pinwheels propellers. We researched information about pinwheels, windmills and wind turbines. Students shared with me that they have seen wind turbines close to the oil tank on Highway 93, and that they now understand how the wind turbines  generate electricity that helps our community. I read an article focused on high school students learning how to fix and install wind turbines on land and in the ocean at Martha’s Vineyard.

This week, first grade students will observe and record the phases of the moon with their families. They will then record their findings in their moon journal. I gave the journals to the students’ homeroom teachers prior to April Break so that they would be distributed to each student. We will begin reflecting on their sightings later on this semester during a period I like to call our Young Steam Inventors period.

Run, Marble, Run

Students were engaged with constructing a marble run where the marbles could run “super fast”. They were testing out different theories. One theory was that if they used a bunch of marbles at once, that the marbles would move faster than using just one or two. They also became really interested in how marbles are made. In case you’re also interested in how marbles are made, you can check out this video by the Discovery Channel and this question on Quora.
“What’s inside the marbles?” asked one of my students, Ritaj. Some of her classmates started to respond:

  • “I think it’s a feather?”
  • “I think there are flowers inside of the marbles.”
  • “I think there is plastic inside of the marbles.”
“What if break it open and find out? asked Ritaj. “What if we check on the computer and find out?” asked Hafsa. I helped the students use the internet to research their question. One of my students gave the following remark:  “We did some research and found out it’s called a cat eye and it’s made out of different colored glass inside of the marble.”

Safe Search for Kids

This Month in the YSI Classroom

“To empower our pupils for the future, we must prioritize learning through play over standardized testing.”   ~ The LEGO Foundation

Kindergarten – Paper and Wood Unit

Kindergarten students have been exploring simple machines in connection with the science unit on Paper and Wood. I introduced the wheel, the lever, the screw, the wedge, the incline plane, and the pulley. I set up examples of all of these simple machines in the hallway and in the Makerspace. Students were then able to investigate how all machines, including simple machines, have been designed to make work easier for us. We experimented with simple machines and the principals of movement and force.

Our exploration of simple machines serves as the springboard into the design process of constructing treehouses and fairy-houses. Using the design process students started using their imagination to think and describe their ideas. We researched tree houses and fairy-houses through books, “A Tree House” poem by Shel Silverstein, and other resources.

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Students were inspired this week and started drawing their blueprints. Their favorite story was Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Tree Houses of Central Park, and photographs of treehouses and fairy-houses from around the world. Two students continued to add on to their treehouses after looking at The 13 Story Treehouse series (the last book is a 91 Story Treehouse).The author of the series drew blueprints inside of the covers of each book. Students loved some of the ideas, and these two particular students designed a skateboard board park, shark eating tank, a bowling alley and several other fun rooms for their treehouse.

I’ve established criteria for their constructions. All structures have to include the following:

  • a bridge
  • a ladder
  • a slide (simple machine) and one other machine of their choosing
  • railings or a wall (we talked about what railings were)
  • a platform (this was a new word for most kids)

I am challenging students to include at least two simple machines into their blueprints. They can add whatever else they’re inspired to create. Students already had great ideas and have excitedly told me what they want to create. One of my students named Gary said to me, “Ms. Alicia, science is better than ice cream!” Check out some of Gary’s blueprints below:

Next week, we will finish up their blueprints and begin constructing Treehouses and Fairy-houses.

Grade 1 – Weather Unit

Grade 1 students are celebrating National Poetry Month by creating poems about the weather. Their poems will be displayed on the third floor outside of their home room teachers’ classroom. I captured some of the students’ work through photos. Here is Mae writing her rain poem.

For the rest of this month, we will graph the weather and analyze the data. Next week, we will dive in deeper and design air balloons. Students were excited to hear that!

Rising To the Challenge


Kindergarten and Grade 1 Young STEAM Inventors were recently asked to do a Tower Building Design Challenge. Setting up a design challenge is a great way to evaluate students’ understanding of different engineering concepts.

Candy Tower Design Challenge

If you have ever had a teacher have you build a bridge with marshmallows and toothpicks, I challenged my students to do a similar task building towers with soft candies and a variety of materials that would serve as beam or supports. Here were my instructions for the Candy Tower Design Challenge.

1) Build a tall tower with the following materials:

  • Interlocking popsicle sticks
  • Cups
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Marshmallows
  • Spaghetti
  • Gum drops
  • Toothpicks

2) Measure your towers, and add up the combined height to win!

The engineering came into play as the students had to develop an understanding of stable and unstable. There was also a lot of materials science involved; they had to test their ideas with different materials so that their could determine which materials were easiest to build with, and which materials were not.

Card Tower Design Challenge

Students also built towers using playing cards. They had to figure out what shape they could turn the card into to in order to build a stable structure. They thought it would be easy because they had the smaller wooden pieces. However, I gave them a design constraint by saying that they could only use five wooden pieces and that the rest had to be the cards. They then discovered how to bend the cards into different shapes in order to make their structures sound. You can view their structures in the slideshow below.

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I think our Young STEAM Inventors’ towers are more impressive than this 2009 cover of Appleseed Magazine!