Within These Halls of Learning

6 Flags Over Lexington

March 2009

March is a cold month in Lexington, and the idea of going to “Six Flags” to ride roller coasters seems very uncomfortable. Yet for Tom Novitsky’s 5th grade physical science classes, students experience the coasters without the discomfort of actually riding them. Rather, in the warmth of their classroom, 5th grade science students conceptualize, design, and build them. This project is just another example of how Lexington School students are taught to think critically, problem solve, and learn in an active, hands-on way. At TLS, Science is a verb.

The idea works like this: rather than simply reading a text book and memorizing terms like velocity, momentum, friction, and torque, Lexington School students take what they learn about these terms and apply them in small groups by building roller coasters out of foam plumbing tubes. From ceiling to floor, loops and turns make travel for a marble no small feat. Then, at the bottom of the roller coaster, the marble triggers a “Rube Goldberg” invention where an action occurs. This year we saw everything from waffle making , soda pouring, and the opening of a box of chocolates. Culminating their studies of the many physical aspects roller coasters, 5th grade students share their final projects with many lower school visitors. After a 3rd grade visit, Jaime Lassman reported on the relevance of this cutting edge curriculum:

“I couldn’t help but see and hear the manifestation of our philosophy of education. Roller coasters are a chance for the 5th graders to explain the creativity and science behind their work. As always, it was a great experience. While failure is never our goal, Tom [Novitsky] took the opportunity to impress upon both sets of students the reality of scientific experiment and the value of effort in the face of failure. 5th graders took big risks in what they could accomplish, and even when it did not work out, they were able to articulate the events that should have occurred, and they used vocabulary like “momentum” naturally and conversationally as it applied to their work. Additionally, I saw the fruits of that philosophy in the creativity of the roller coasters this year. The creativity and humor in how the 5th graders approached the project instantly communicated that they felt safe, and they encouraged each other to keep trying when things did not work out the way they had planned. Without any prodding from Tom, I overheard conversations between the 5th graders of what needed to be strengthened or shortened based on momentum, weight, and speed to make it work. My kids enjoyed it, but I think I came away more impressed than they were.”