During the 2018-2019 school year, in collaboration with the Brookings School District, South Dakota State University, and the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, school-aged children visited the Children’s Museum with their schools in a learning lab experience. Their job was not only to play, but also to solve real-world problems using a student-centered teaching method called problem-based learning.
One of the first things students from Dakota Prairie Elementary noticed when they visited the Museum was the Airway Adventure exhibit. In Airway Adventure guests can track yarn balls and hankies through a series of pneumatic tubes to see where they will end up. Students can try different routes using the inputs and diverters and see what flies at different rates.
The kindergarten through third-grade classes were curious about the sound and feel of the air as it rushed through the exhibit’s various tubes. They also noticed that some of the materials got stuck in the tubes, not because the air had been diverted to other tubes, but rather because the items created a clog in the tubes and the air alone could not push them out. It wasn’t long before they decided that this was the problem they were going to solve.
They started by asking questions:
- What causes the clogs in the tubes?
- What materials can be used that are engaging to watch, yet don’t create clogs?
- Do some materials work better with other materials?
From there, they started to investigate and test with different materials working toward answers. The students discovered that some materials were too light to go through tubes on their own. Some items were too large and got stuck even more often. Other items would go through the tubes but were too hard to see as they flew by. The trials involved testing objects such as ping pong balls, parachutes, foxtails, pool noodles, cotton balls, marshmallows, foam baseball, practice golf balls, origami frogs, and more!
Because of the research and advice of these students, the Museum has added new materials to the Airway Adventure exhibit. To some, this may feel like a small thing, but the process will create big opportunities.
After their research, the students presented their findings to their peers and to the Museum staff. They created a list of items that worked well in the tubes, a list of objects that posed problems in the tubes, and a list of pieces that worked in some cases and did not work in others.
Because of the research and advice of these students, the Museum has added new materials to the Airway Adventure exhibit. To some, this may feel like a small thing, but the process will create big opportunities. When you take time to wonder, play, and discover, creative solutions shine through!