Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bring a Little CHAOS to your Classroom

Bring a Little CHAOS to your Classroom

"Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth."
 - Tom Barrett -

Do you remember Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, Blocks and the Original Legos?
How much did we learn about the basic components of logic, building and physics from the trial and error of playing with these toys both correctly and in some cases incorrectly.  I know I learned about catapults by launching the single notch lincoln logs using the green roof plank as a lever.  I learned about control over the center of gravity by building towers of blocks and unbalanced lego creations. I learned gear and wheel ratios from tinker toys and erector sets.  While I didn't realize I was learning physics, I came to understand physical phenomena through tinkering and experimentation.

In my Physics class I use Chaos Towers ( ) to allow students to experience the hands on nature of discovering the physics of Newton's Laws, Poential (gravitational) and Kinetic Energy and the basic ideas behind vetors as a means of mapping motion, displacement, velocity and acceleration. 

  I have four chaos towers in my classroom.  I divide students into three or four teams and give them two class periods to build the towers.  The towers can be built horizontally or vertically.  I make sure at least one of the towers is built horizontally.  The students prefer the vertical version.

The lessons students learn, even before the concepts of physics are the importance of reading and following directions and the job of delegating the work.  I have students grade each other on their contribution to the building of the tower and collaboration and communication within the group. 

Once the towers are built, students analyze directional changes and displacement values of the path of the marbles.  Students determine the gravitational potential energy at various points along the path and compare velocities based upon the PE = KE formula and measured velocities. The trampoline offers students the understanding of action and reaction forces as well as the parabolic arc of a projectile. 

On the Chaos Toy website there a several lessons utilizing smaller component portions of the towers.

The hands on nature of the tower and the collaborative aspects of the group work, provide a tremendous learning environment for my students.

"I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift."