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Learning in full force

Students put energy into cardboard games

Kentwood — Calvin King launched a mini basketball into a cardboard hoop and watched it make its way down a chute. “Ping,” it sounded, as the ball hit a bell, making it ring.

“Sound is the indicator of energy when it hits the ball,” said Calvin, a freshman at the East Kentwood Freshman Campus. “The motion of the ball transfers energy to the bell.”

Students tossing balls, ringing bells, pushing targets and learning the concepts of energy and force took over several classrooms for the Cardboard Energy Fair, a competition to create games that demonstrate how energy is conserved and transferred to objects. All students participated as part of the required ninth-grade biophysics course. 

In groups of three or four, students built games out of cardboard, tape, construction paper, yarn and other materials. They developed rules and rule sheets. Students took turns operating their games and playing one  anothers’. The goal was to demonstrate energy and forces, and that they are two different things in science.

“We learned the indicators of energy and how energy and force are different,” said Mya Parks, whose group’s game involved tossing a piece of weighted yarn onto rungs for points.

Big Re-engagement Energy

Wendy Johnson joined several other science teachers in creating the fair as a fun way to teach a science concept. Another goal was to get students re-engaged in out-of-your-seat collaborative learning after a long time without it. About half of Kentwood students learned remotely last school year.

“Because of the pandemic and the fact that so many of them were remote, we knew we needed to start with something super hands-on,” Johnson said. “We wanted something in which they would be talking with others and would be invested in.”

In recent years, East Kentwood merged biology and physics into biophysics to align with Next Generation Science Standards

“Research shows if you start with physics, you actually have a more in-depth understanding of biology later on,” said science teacher Rob Barrett.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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