Students learn by doing

Published 4:15 pm Monday, May 24, 2010

Montevallo Middle School’s eighth grade science teacher, Michelle Bradley, believes that her students learn best by designing, building and demonstrating products that prove the scientific theories they are studying.

Recently, they created projects with model airplanes and musical instruments.

Having just completed a unit on fluids and fluid pressure, Bradley let the students spend a day designing and building gliders or airplanes from tissue paper and craft sticks.

She explained that the young people had studied Bernoulli’s principle: As the speed of a fluid increases, the pressure of that fluid decreases, creating a lift, which is what allows planes to fly.

The students worked in teams and when the planes were completed, took them outside to see if they really would fly.

Some of them had concentrated on designs that were cool-looking, while others built planes that they thought would truly fly.

“A few of the designs actually stayed up for just over a few seconds,” said Bradley. “But the kids had fun and will hopefully remember Bernoulli’s principle because of our day building airplanes.”

Another of their projects involved the construction of musical instruments.

The class had studied waves, including sound waves. They studied pitch and how it is determined by frequency.

All of the students were already interested in music and Bradley thinks several of them are great musicians.

She asked them to build instruments that would create four different pitches and to build any type instrument from materials they had at home.

The instruments that came in were extremely interesting. There were guitar-like models made from boxes and small nails, a xylophone made from large nails, a drum using a large can covered with material and beaten with sticks, metal pipes hung in a row to be hit with wooden sticks, and glasses of various sizes that made different tones when a wet finger rubbed the rims.

“We had fun,” said Xan Shivers, a student in the class. “And we especially enjoyed demonstrating our instruments in front of the class.”

Both the teacher and the students agreed that a day combining learning with fun has to be the very best way to learn.

Catherine Legg may be reached at