GO IN DEPTH

Ramps 2: Ramp Builder

Materials

A variety of ramp building materials, such as:

• carpet samples
• pink foam
• foam wrap
• wood
• plywood
• PVC-white
• PVC-black
• brick
• gutter

Purpose

To plan, build, and test a ramp that allows objects to roll far.

Context

This lesson is the second in a two-part series on ramp building.

In Ramps 1: Let It Roll!, students explore ramps, discuss why different ramps work better than others, and practice procedures for testing designs and recording results.

In Ramps 2: Ramp Builder, students design, build, and test their own ramps. They are introduced to a variety of materials and explore putting them together. Students engage in an inquiry-based learning experience to reinforce math, science, and technology standards. They create plans for ramps by evaluating a variety of materials provided to them.

You will also need to gather objects for students to roll down their ramps, such as MatchBox cars. You may want to provide colored stickers (or something similar) for the students to mark the distance the objects travel off of the ramp. Students will also need tools with which to measure the distance, such as rulers or cubes (cm).

Motivation

To begin the lesson, set up a prototype ramp. Tell students that they will build their own ramps using a variety of common materials. The goal is to find the design that will send a Matchbox car (or other rolling object) the farthest.

Demonstrate how students will test their ramps and measure results by rolling the car down the ramp, marking the distance traveled with a sticker or piece of masking tape, and measuring that distance with a ruler, meterstick, train of cubes, or other appropriate unit of measurement. Tell students that their challenge is to create a ramp that will send a car even farther.

Distribute the ramp building materials you collected for this activity and have students explore them. Be sure students know they should handle the products with care. Because these are mostly consumable materials, the items selected are easily replaced and of low cost.

Discuss the materials with students and ask them the following questions:

• Which materials are familiar?
• Which materials are unfamiliar?
• Which materials do you think would be good for building a ramp? Why?
• Are some materials better than others for building a ramp? If so, why?

Encourage students to think back on their experiences with ramps in the previous lesson, and to use them as evidence to support their responses to these questions.

Development

Tell students that they will use materials of their choice to create a ramp. In this case, the goal of the ramp is to allow objects to travel far off of the ramp. Lead a discussion in which students realize that they could create ramps with different functions in mind; for example, to make objects move fast, to hold a lot of weight, or to hold large objects. Be sure to emphasize that they will build ramps with distance in mind.

Get students to start thinking about the building process, continuing to focus on building a ramp that allows objects to move the farthest.

• How would you begin this process?
• Can you draw a picture of your ramp?

Have students draw pictures of their ramps, being as specific as possible. You could take this opportunity to introduce terms such as surface and angle, and encourage students to label their diagrams with as much detail as possible.

Once students have drawn pictures of their ramps, have them gather in groups of 3-4. Students should compare ideas and decide on a design that incorporates the "best" ideas from each sketch. Allow students sufficient time to build, test, and adjust the ramps. Each team should experiment with rolling Matchbox cars (or other objects of their choice) down the ramp to determine what adjustments can be made to make objects move the farthest.

Based on the level of your students, you can decide the procedure by which students will determine the distance traveled by the objects. For example, students could plot out the distance using colored stickers. Students could then measure the distance traveled with rulers, cm cubes, or other appropriate tools.

Take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of repeat trials; help students realize that they wouldn't want to decide the best design for their ramp after testing it just once. Have students test each of the ramps three times; noting the distance each time. Depending on the level of your students, you may want them to use the Ramp Builders activity sheet.

These students are too young to calculate averages, but encourage them to look at the trials for each of the ramps to see if they are close. If they aren't, ask students what could have caused this. Do they think it was something with the ramp (e.g., it got bumped and the structure changed)? Or something with themselves (e.g., they sent the objects rolling down with different "force" each time)?

After each group has tested out their ramps, allow them to test their design against the "record" previously established by the prototype ramp. Ask each group the following questions as a way to evaluate their understanding of the activity:

• Did you use more than one material for the ramp?
• Do you think the surface of the ramp affected your results?
• Do you think the angle of the ramp affected your results?
• How would you want to alter your ramp to allow items to move slower? To move faster?

Focus the discussion on the "best" ramps (i.e., the ramps that allowed objects to move the farthest). Possible discussion questions include:

• What materials were used to make this ramp?
• How long was it?
• Why do you think this one caused the objects to move the farthest?

Then, ask students how they would improve their ramps to allow the objects to move even farther. Have teams discuss findings from the group discussion and testing. Allow them time to revise their ramps, test these, and discuss whether they were indeed "better," and why.

• How did you change your ramp design? Why?
• Do you think changing the material/surface/angle of the ramp made a difference? Why or why not?
• How would you want to alter your ramp to allow items to move slower? To move faster?

Assessment

Ask students to think about how they would improve their ramps to allow the objects to move even farther if they did not have any limitations; they can choose any materials they want, and have as much room as they need.

Have students draw detailed diagrams of their revised ramps. Students should explain, either verbally or in writing, why they think this design would be better.

Extensions

Some other activities involving ramps that students might try include:

• Using a stopwatch to time objects rolling down the ramp, and creating a graph/table.
• Building ramps for moving items up instead of down.
• Testing a variety of objects on a ramp.
• Continuing to explore functions of ramps in their everyday lives

A good website for students to visit to see more activities that involve using different kinds of materials for making a particular thing is Structures Around the World, by the Exploratorium. One set of activities involves using clay, paper, or newspaper to construct bridges.