November 29, 2023

Kindergarten Engineers

Their challenge involves creating a paper roller coaster to transport a ping pong ball a short distance. Armed with a limited assortment of materials, students explore the physics behind roller coasters (primarily gravity) and different ways to use the materials (folding, rolling, cutting). With little instruction on how to utilize these materials, students were given the space to explore, experiment, and learn through hands-on experiences, encouraging creativity and problem-solving skills. 

Kindergartners, Zirah ‘36 and Ennis ‘36 revisit their initial roller coaster design, using the “mistakes” they discovered to create new structural advantages. ”I was going to use a cup to hold up my ramp, but I used a straw instead—and it worked!” Ennis shares excitedly, Dana helps Zirah and Ennis explore the concept of gravity and its involvement in the process. Oakwood’s elementary campus has been “This is a way to explore Da Vincian principles and to understand that it’s ok to do something differently, to try something one way, and to have it not work out,” Dana explains.  Da Vincian principles suggest an approach that encourages exploration, hands-on learning, creativity, and an acceptance of failure as a natural part of the learning process. It’s about fostering a mindset that integrates various disciplines, encourages curiosity, and values the process of discovery.


Lark ‘36 says that after trying “a lot of things that didn’t work” in her experiments, she finds that a little height makes the ball go “very, very fast.” She responds by layering colorful construction paper to make a ramp. “The teachers also engage the children in discussions about how inventors often spend years experimenting to bring their ideas to fruition and emphasized the value of resilience—creating a plan, trying an idea, adapting, brainstorming new solutions, and repeating the process again and again,” Dana says.  

While Bear ‘36 shares a very elaborate plan with his partners, Ella ‘36 and Billie ‘36, Billie ‘36 begins cutting a piece of construction paper into a circle and suggests a different plan to his group that will help to guide the ball into the cup. The group adds that “this will help a lot!” In a different group, Sofia ‘36 works diligently on the finish line, and Sofia ‘36 admits that she and Luna don’t know exactly what the outcome will be. “We just don’t know yet,” she shares.

Dana notes that “students genuinely had a wonderful time experimenting and learning through trial and error. The kindergartners have truly embraced the notion that ‘failure’ is not a setback, but rather a crucial part of the journey, providing opportunities for further exploration, flexible thinking, and innovative explorations.“