Science Magic on the Playground

iSchool for the Future: Where imagination comes to play! This is so much more than a slogan to us, but rather an integral part of our practices, vision, and values.


Play is about engaging the whole mind and body in something fun yet meaningful, all the while making learning effortless and lasting.  We incorporate play into all of our offerings – and there will plenty of opportunities for meaningful play during our Wizards of i Summer Camp Series.


Balloons are great for playing and learning, and are a hit during our summer camps!


Research and years of observation by educators has shown that play is good for intellectual, physical, and emotional growth.  Take this 2012 article from Edutopia entitled Make More Time for Play: “John Seely Brown, renowned scientist, insightful writer, and all-around big thinker, is serious about play. Playful, adventuresome experiences that engage both mind and body are how we learn best.”  This article entitled Recess in Elementary School: What Does the Research Say? from the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative (ECAP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign summarizes numerous benefits from recess, playtime, or physical activity during the school day, such as: Children who are more on-task and less fidgety in the classroom; Increased fitness, improved attitudes, and slight improvements in test scores; and Development of social skills.


During our programs, iSchool balances unstructured playtime with meaningful, playful learning experiences.  Our activities in Science Magic this week were an example of this type of playful learning, using the playground as an experimental setting.  Topics this week were friction and energy transfer.  Using our hands, we first discussed what friction is and what some of the mechanisms of friction are when hard, smooth, squishy, and rough surfaces are pressed together.  We then went outside to do our experiment – could we find items that created the most and least amount of friction on the playground?  Students had their pick of materials – various types of cloth, pillows, plastic bags, and paper.  They first established a baseline – their choice of material – and then selected other materials to compare. After making a prediction  about whether the next material would go faster or slower, we then used a timer to see if they came down the slide according to prediction.  There was complete consensus that the material creating the most friction was a regular plastic trash bag, but the “data” for the fastest material was less conclusive.  But the students certainly had fun trying to figure it out!


Testing friction caused by felt. On the right, a student uses a digital thermometer to test temperatures in the shade versus in the sun.


Our second task on the playground was in response to a real-world, real-me question: “Could I save electricity by heating up water for my daily cup of tea using energy conducted from playground equipment?” Armed with a digital thermometer and a bucket of water, we set out to answer this question.  Students used the thermometer and their own observations to find the hottest places on the playground.  They then measured the temperature of water before and after they poured it over the playground equipment (and caught it in a cup).  They found that water increased in temperature by as much at 9 degrees – not enough to brew my tea but enough to warrant more investigation, especially during the hotter summer months.  Indeed, I think I will include this question in our Science Magic camp in Reston, starting June 30.  If the water gets hot enough, I really will drink it as tea!  Sign up and see!   ~Ms. Anu


The squishy pillow was super fast and led to crash landings!