The Physical World

Playground sessions, squidgy stress toys, junk instruments and survival stoves. I had so much fun stuff planned for this term. It ended up being quite disjointed because of my house move and various illnesses, but I can build on that for next term, and re-use some of the material with new groups.

I was excited about covering The Physical World with outdoor sessions. After all, how better to learn about forces, sound and light than playing outside? However, a combination of factors meant that the number of sessions was quite low. I found it was hard to do targeted work in 45 mins with the younger group when they just wanted to make the most of (a) being together and (b) the wonderful opportunity afforded by being in a playground, next to the sea and with a rock face to climb!!

North Harbour Reserve, in Balgowlah. Photo from

My youngest son experienced gravity and the importance of friction first hand, when he slipped on a rock and fell from higher than his own height onto the ground. He had plenty of scrapes and bruises to show for that, but luckily nothing was fractured or broken.

Overall, the younger group (Key Stage 1 in Australia, roughly ages 5 to 7) had one outdoor session thinking about forces, and we squeezed in a bit of discussion about light sources too. We had an indoor class making stress toys, paper aeroplanes and paper helicopters (to explore the effect of unbalanced forces on different materials). The next class was very small, but we covered the basics of sound and vibrations in a very small class. I am making my own copper pipe glockenspiel and I am hoping that each child will design and make their own musical instrument next term. There are some links for homemade instruments here:

The older group (Key Stage 2, aged 8 to 10) has been thin on the ground but we used the outdoor session to introduce Newton’s Laws of Motion (demonstrated in the video below using rocket sleds on an ice rink).

I think if I were running this class again, I would devote more time to discussions of energy transfer, and definitions of energy and power. However, we can cover that when we next meet the concepts.

The second class was inside, finding out about heat and insulation by looking at ice cubes melting. We put them in identical cardboard boxes, some insulated with particular materials, placed them in front of the fire and checked how much they had melted after each 5 minutes. I tried to introduce them to good experiment design, particularly the idea of a ‘fair test’ and use of what scientists call a ‘control’. I think my middle son was far too excited to just get the ice cubes melting. So for example, we didn’t start off all the boxes at the same time. If they were interested, we could repeat the ice-cube experiment again but try to design it better. However, I think we have already moved on to designing and making stoves out of household equipment.

I found some great instructions for DIY stoves (particularly on American-based survival type websites). A couple are given below, but there are also plenty of videos on YouTube which you could follow.I think just working together with a hands-on activity like this could lead to good discussions about types of fuel, insulation, global warming, recycling, self-sufficiency etc. This will also cover some of the Technology requirements of the syllabus, partly due to the skills required, but also in discussing the different designs and what changes we might use.

Can stove on
#10 can rocket stove on

My eldest son has been covering the Key Stage 3 syllabus on his own but I hope that next year we can arrange some classes with other children to cover the high school requirements.


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