Learning physics in the playground

The Plikta playground at Slottskogen in Gothenburg is a popular daytime visit for both pre-schools and primary schools. And that’s the case on this particular morning. However, there was one group that stood out a bit from the rest: it was the start of a course in Science and Technology for preschools.

The course is being offered by the Department of Physics and is a part of the ‘Preschool Initiative; that is to say, further training for educationalists working at preschool level. The teacher on this particular day was Ann-Marie Pendrill, a Professor in Physics.

“We show them simple physical phenomena, and there are many of these in a playground. The playground is a natural part of the preschool’s teaching environment, so we try to use aids that you normally find in a preschool such as swings and slides.”

Preschool teachers were placed in groups to have a go at everything from swinging in tandem with an empty swing or rolling marbles of different materials and sizes either from a height or down a slide, to see which ones came first. They then discussed as a group what had happened and what mattered – or didn’t matter.

“There are quite a few things that come as a surprise, and the reality doesn’t always match their expectations. “The idea is that they become equipped to involve themselves in the children’s play and encourage them to think about physical phenomena and experiment further, given that they are outdoors anyway and exploring things,” Ann-Marie Pendrill says.

This is far from the first time that Ann-Marie Pendrill has made use of everyday objects to explain physics. She has, for instance, tested the role of physics by using the attractions at Liseberg Amusement Park together with both teachers and school classes, and has been involved in exploring different activities for schools and teachers over a long time. Today she divides her working time between the University of Gothenburg and Lund University, where she is a representative for the National Resource Centre for Physics Education.

“Force and motion are often regarded as difficult areas, but when force has an influence one’s own body it’s no longer something abstract.” The idea that mass does not affect motion in many different situations is surprising, and this discovery can fascinate both children and adults at the same time that it provides an illustration of the equivalence principle, a fundamental principle in physics.

The Preschool Initiative is aimed at preschool teachers, staff employed in preschools and preschool heads who wish to improve their skills and thereby help their preschool to achieve its goals.

The Preschool Initiative

Learn more about the Preschool Initiative at:

The National Resource Centre for Physics Education: fysik.org
and playground physics: physics.gu.se/liseberg