Hands-on science for Sunderland children

  • Sunderland Elementary School Students collaborate on marble roller coaster designs at the school Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Sunderland Elementary School Students Tenzin Phelgay, 11, right, Leah Meattey, 6, middle, and Sarah Sung, 9, left, prepare to test a marble coaster in the school's gymnasium Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Sunderland Elementary School Students London Lewis, 9, left, and Robert Fuqua, 11, right, test out a marble coaster in the school's gymnasium Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Sunderland Elementary School Student Jonathan Dion, 10, builds a marble coaster in the gymnasium Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Sunderland Elementary School Kindergartner Johan Bagdon prepares a marble for launch down a marble coaster in the gymnasium Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/14/2017 3:57:41 PM

SUNDERLAND — When 11-year-old Sunderland Elementary School Student Tenzin Phelgay grows up, he wants to design a rocket capable of going to Mars.

For now, he’s building marble rollercoasters in the Swampfield Drive school’s gymnasium as part of “Thinking Buddies,” an innovative science program, new in this year’s curriculum, that pairs older and younger students for hands-on creative projects.

Around Phelgay, about 50 kindergartners, 4th and 6th graders, duct taped foam tubing into loops and turns, directing marbles over wooden boxes, meeting loosely defined instructions. Shouts of excitement echoed through the large room as students learned through trial and error.

“It gets kids thinking about how they’re going to make it,” Phelgay said. “I love how (Thinking Buddies) inspires people to be creative about how they make things.”

The class is inspired by “Camp Innovation” science camp held at Whately Elementary School over the summer. Projects are mostly student driven with little adult guidance. Beforehand, teachers give a brief science lesson, discuss raw material properties, and outline loose goals.

For Friday’s project, using foam insulation, duct tape, wooden boxes, and plastic pipes, students had to build a marble coaster with an incline, decline, and 270 degree turn. An optional challenge was to create a loop. Younger students were paired with higher grade students in groups of four or five creating peer interactions.

“One of the big things for me is the communication aspect,” said 6th Grade Teacher Ryan Copeland.

Earlier, before moving to the gym, they drew designs on large sheets of paper with crayons.

Watching from the side of the classroom, Kindergarten Teacher Lucille Antes said planning is “the hardest phase” because it requires collaboration.

“We’re trying to change some mindsets. A lot of kids thinking that they can’t do things, and failure is a problem,” Antes said. “The world is changing, and classrooms are changing with it.”

Thinking Buddies teaches students that failure is what creates success. It’s an active learning environment that nurtures social skills, collaboration, science knowledge, and problem solving.

In past weeks, students have built a “three little pigs house” to withstand wind from a hair dryer. None of them fell down.

Principal Benjamin Barshefsky said the class “makes students responsible for their own learning.”

Looking ahead, Antes said she’d like to see similar hands-on science classes integrated throughout the Union 38 district. Copeland noted he’s not sure if there are other, similar programs at other schools.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo




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