My third graders have been studying the Iditarod race and tracking musher data online during the past few weeks. Take a look at the data available on the mushers, like first place winner Mitch Seavey. Graphing, data analysis, addition, subtraction, addition, averages, and so much more become real as students follow the race online, tracking their own selected musher. As a part of the study, we built our own sleds. I cleaned out the art supplies and covered an entire table with random stuff. Popsicle sticks. Cardboard. Cotton. Yarn. Bubble Wrap. Recycled items. The goal? To build a sled that would carry a small bag of musher supplies (bingo chips) down the hill (a table leaned down on two legs) at the fastest speed possible. The class dove into the supplies, building, researching sled designs, and recreating their own little sleds in small teams.
When we raced? The sleds with cotton on the bottom hesitated to start. The sleds with wood bottoms? Zoomed to the bottom. Friction. Force. Motion. Energy. Collaboration. Data. The reflections afterward? They not only understood friction, but they applied it to their own experiences. All of this from a pile of craft supplies, a real-life race, and morning spent creating and exploring. Even better? They applied what they learned to the real sleds on snow, ice, and rock mushing through Alaska.
I could have given them a pattern to follow. I could have just asked them to just read a chapter about force and motion and write some defintions. I could have even made a sled and demonstrated for them. Instead? I got out of their way. A pile of materials engaged them, and our race at the end allowed them to make comparisons, draw conclusions, and keep it real. They were solving problems, working as a team, and creating. They were learning.