Learning the Concept of Balance
“In mathematics, the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it.” – Georg Cantor
When we think of math and physics we don’t usually think of preschoolers; however, the Kodo Kids Balance is a tool that supports children’s critical thinking and supports your EC mathematics curriculum.
“I designed this balance because of my child-like obsession with the basic physics associated with simple machines.” – Kodo Chris
A balance works from a very straightforward concept- a single pivot point and the forces associated with each arm. This concept is approachable for a child of any age. Balance the arms, place more weight on one side, and gravity will pull that side down. Combine this with leverage, the concept that weight which is closer to the center pivot point has less effect than weight further out, and many options begin to appear for children to study. These are simple concepts, but very complex when analyzed and questioned! Enter the curious child! As children play with the balance they begin to form an intuitive understanding of balance, leverage, mass and mathematical computation.
Think of the Balance as a physical representation of an algebraic equation. Both sides, we know, must equal one another and the center point is neutral or has the value of zero. When the Balance is at rest with nothing on it’s pegs, the center pivot point is also at neutral or zero. We want children to figure out that in order to achieve balance whatever they put on one side must be, in some way, proportionately equal with whatever they put on the other side, causing the center point to return to it’s neutral or zero position. Children will discover that this can be done despite variances in the number of objects, sizes or weights. But it is up to them to play with configurations that make this possible. Young children playing with simple addition (1 + 1 = 2), can experience this is in physical form, giving the teacher opportunity to point out one way that numbers can be “played” with or how numbers can be grouped. One child we know told us that numbers can be “friends” with other numbers. How true and age appropriate for a four year old!
Concept of Balance Activity
Try placing a standard golf ball on one side and a plastic or foam golf ball on the other. The children might assume that since the golf balls are the same size and have similar physical characteristics or attributes (both are spherical and have divots), they are equal. Adults know that objects of the same size and shape can be different weights, but children require a concrete way of learning this. Ask the children to think “out loud” as you let them make their own discoveries about why this is so. Their conclusions do not have to be “correct” because, as we know, as they are thinking they are learning. Eventually they’ll come to understand that many attributes can contribute to objects or numbers “equaling” one another, but for now getting children to be excited about playing with these concepts is vital.
Once the children have a working understanding of the concept of balance, extend the work further. Work with children on balancing their bodies in space by standing tall with feet together and arms extended. Place several blocks in one hand. How does it feel to be out of balance? Place the same number of blocks in the other hand. How does it feel to be in balance? How do we balance our bodies with food and exercise, playing and resting? Do we have balance in our day? Can coming to a center place or finding balance become a metaphor in your classroom for calming down?
Follow up or extend your work with balance with other tools for measurement, i.e., scales, rulers, and measuring cups. Ask children to make predictions about what they think will balance, but take care not to interrupt their process with too many questions.
For younger children just beginning to explore quality and quantity, use terms such as more and less than. Listen for their clues of growing understanding as they describe objects on each side of the balance with terms like big, little, too much or lots more.
Look to Piaget’s work on Conservation to inspire your set-ups with the balance. Knowing about children’s developmental thinking stages can support your own thinking about young children and their understanding of mass, weight and proportion. The Balance is a tool for playing with mathematical concepts, for challenging children’s thinking and for supporting their inquiry. It was designed, in part, as a means for adults to help children reach their own conclusions!
Thanks for reading.
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