By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Mondays at Findlay’s Jacobs Primary School mean a whirlwind of activity: Students working together to build roller coasters, invent new types of frogs, lay out elaborate mazes, and camouflage paper ducks to blend into forests and swamps.
Jacobs students start each week with project-based learning days. The benefits of the hands-on activities are numerous, teachers say.
“A lot of (students) learn best when it’s hands-on,” said second-grade teacher Sarah Strohscher.
Kids can be creative and share ideas, said Lisa Rutter, also a second-grade teacher.
Students encourage each other as they work, Strohscher said.
“They might get down on themselves, but they perk back up and try again,” she said.
Plus, it’s a fun start to the week.
“It gives them something to look forward to. They know it’s going to be a creative, hands-on day,” said Tracy Aukerman, a second-grade teacher.
The idea to make Mondays project-based learning days sprouted last spring when Aukerman’s class was making “blow paintings” — art with watercolors spread around by blowing through a straw — for Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
Aukerman apologized to someone who was observing the class that day, since the activity didn’t quite fit with the typical curriculum.
The visitor didn’t find the apology necessary — and neither did Jacobs Principal Krista Miller, who quickly decided there should be more hands-on learning, not less.
It’s not just fun. That type of learning also helps kids build cooperative skills they’ll need in jobs as adults, Aukerman said.
Rutter and Strohscher combined their classes for the duck camouflage activity.
After taking a quiz about camouflage as a class, using an interactive whiteboard, the students cut out ducks. Later, they would design camouflage for the ducks to blend into different environments on a map.
In Alexandria Cantrell’s classroom, third-grade students built roller coasters for marbles out of paper plates, tape and several sizes of plastic cups.
One group cut the edges of paper plates into spirals that curled around a tower of red cups.
Another set out a line of cups that supported folded paper plates. Those students conducted a test run and found that a hill was too high, and their marble rolled backward.
They made adjustments and rolled the marble again. The marble rolled over the hill, but flew off the side.
A boy pointed out where to reinforce the wall.
At another table, a group asked if they could tape their roller coaster to the table.
The structure would wiggle too much otherwise, one student said.
Third-graders prepared to make new species of frogs in Janine Gilts’s room.
They have been studying adaptations, and they used that knowledge to choose feet, body shapes, colors and other features for their frogs.
“It’s hard for them to know it unless they can see it,” Gilts said.
First, they assembled them on paper. Later, they would make clay models.
Aukerman’s students made “wind-powered mazes” — paths made out of blocks and dominoes that they guided marbles through by blowing through a straw.
They learned about friction, force, motion, push and pull, energy and momentum, Aukerman said.
The carpet is the best surface to make a maze on, one girl explained. A table is too smooth, so the marbles are hard to control. A rug provides too much friction. Carpet has the right balance.
When students heard an announcement that recess would be held inside because of Monday’s rainy weather, cheers went up.
One boy asked, “Can we build mazes for recess?”