Thinking About Summer? Let’s Learn from It

Beach Balls Benefit STEM Lessons

Zaria Brown, Mercy Huismann and Luke Barnhardt try to balance their beach ball atop an index-card tower

With mere days left in the school year and her Pine Island Elementary fifth-graders’ thoughts predictably drifting to sunnier, summery-er activities, teacher Lisa Czypera still managed to sneak in plenty of learning.

The trick: using beach balls and tying them to lessons in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Addison Altoft gets help with her tower from teacher Lisa Czypera

Students spent two days drawing on their knowledge of concepts such as circumference and mass, and using that knowledge to complete challenges involving beach balls and swimming pool noodles. After completing each challenge, they recorded particulars in “passports” that allowed them to move to whatever came next.

For instance, to start Day 2, students worked in groups to construct towers from index cards and masking tape that would support their beach balls for at least 15 seconds. Once Czypera started the clock, groups got to work on their strategies.

In one group, Addison Altoft thought it made the most sense to tape an index card directly to the beach ball, to give it a flat surface on which to balance.

This group of fifth-graders completed the tower challenge in nearly half the allotted time and fewer than half the materials allowed. Clockwise from top left: Gabriel Priest, Danielle Austin, Shelby Rogalski and Nickolas Pinckney

Across the room, another tactic: “We first tried to do just three sides but it was too wiggly,” explained Zaria Brown. “I was thinking we could make sides and not a roof, and then set the ball inside.”

At the table next to them: “We tried doing a triangle first,” said Nick Pinckney. Added Gabe Priest: “Then we figured a box would be a better support.”

“This is exactly what inventors do all the time, they see a need and figure out how to meet that need,” Czypera told her class. “And they keep trying.”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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