In which Miss Molly paints with pendulums.

Well, it was Mangled Messes time again this week. I really do love doing this program with the kids. It is so much fun. This month, I had the Messers look at the math and science behind pendulums, basically a weight suspended from a fixed point that is allowed to swing freely.

We talked about the parts of a pendulum, the force, momentum, gravity, friction, Newton’s Laws of gravity, and other technicalities associated with pendulums. When I do a science type program, I really like starting with all the scary, and sometimes considered boring, parts of how it all works. I try to talk about the information in a way that is accessible and fun, while still being informative, which is why I spend at least 2 to 3 weeks doing as much personal study on the topic as possible.

We talked about the math behind the swing, how pendulums are used in machinery, and when we might have seen pendulums in our everyday lives. Then I showed some interesting videos about some famous pendulums…like the Foucault pendulum, which demonstrated that the Earth does in fact rotate, which was a big deal in the 1850s.

Next we talked about and watched this video about the dance the these pendulums perform…which the kids loved. I had them think about which patterns would emerge, and why that happened. They thoughts they had ranged from string length to magic.

Next, I wanted to give them a practical, and very fun, application about WHY we would ever possibly need to know the math and science equations behind a pendulum swing. So, I showed a video about circus physics, and how the math and science needs to be exact in order for the solo trapeze artist to perform her routine safely. The video on this page reinforced the concepts we had already talked about, like the period of the pendulum, and why the length of the pendulum is so important. This video, indeed the entire series of videos on PBS, is great. It doesn’t dumb the concept down, but it does visually illustrate the ideas in such a way as to make it stick. After seeing the physical activities of the definitions we talked about, I think the kids definitely had a much better handle on the bigger picture idea.

Finally, it was time for our project, pendulum painting. I had 6 small, empty and cleaned, puffy paint bottles. I cut off the bottoms and attached them to string. We thinned out some tempura paint with water, roughly half paint to half water. Then, while blocking the small nozzle opening, filled the bottles. The kids held one end of the string, un-blocked the nozzle, and swung the paint over a blank piece of paper. NOTE: this part gets messy. Make sure the paint is washable, the kids are properly attired, and that all surfaces are covered with something for protection (and to make clean-up easier).

They each created really unique and interesting designs. Obviously some came out more traditional than others. 1 But all of the art was interesting. 2I wish I had more space, and a more stable set-up for the pendulum painting. I just like having the kids as involved in the process as possible. I like for them to make the measurements to find out the best amount to use. It gives them experience in a real world activity. And they can experiment in a safe environment, where it doesn’t matter so much if what they make isn’t perfect, so much as the actual practice of the activity.3Sure, if I had done all the set up, I think it would have gone a lot smoother, and all the kids would have cookie cutter pictures. However, the kids did have great fun with it, so that’s really what matters. They really liked looking at what everyone else in the class created. 4Letting the kids experiment with technique, mixing their own solutions, and enabling them to be responsible for how each of their projects turns out is important–not only to me as the educator, but to them as the student.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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