Barrel rolling and the year 7 curriculum

barrel and ramp

Rolling in barrels has always been a massive part of my Mobile Junk and Nature Playground.  The gaping maw of a 200 litre barrel is too much for a 6 month old to resist. They must enter the belly of the beast. When an 18 month old rolls a barrel across a lawn they are astonished at the hulk like muscles they must possess to command such a feat.

I ran some sessions at a school a short while back. All ages engaged in barrel rolling. The grade 3,4,5’s bolted to the empty barrels, and begun rolling down the hills immediately. The reception to grade 2 kids also rolled, just not from as high as the older kids. At the end of the day the grade 6 and 7’s came out. These days grade 6 and 7’s like to remain cool (or whatever the groovy hip new word is for cool). They like phones, youtube, and buying things, I think.

But put them in an environment with hills and 200 liter blue barrels.

Like all the other groups they bolted for the barrels. They rolled down the hills and laughed. They smashed into trees and laughed. They smashed into each other and laughed. Their teacher looked on. When you work with grade 6’s and 7’s all the time you know they bounce. This is the age where they push their physical boundaries. One of them rolled down the hill and came to an abrupt stop where a tree decided to grow. He got out and shook his head (his ear was quite red). The teacher asked if he bumped his head. “A little bit” he replied. “. ” then off to the office and get a note” she said. Head injuries need a note (surely there must be a difference between a small red mark and decapitation. ‘Cant be too careful”).

The next kid rolled down the hill and found the same stubborn tree. He too emerged with a slight red mark on his head. “did you bump your head?” the teacher asked. “Nope” he replied, turning his head slightly eastward to hide the evidence. Vicarious learning in action. Learning from the mistakes of others. From that point on not one kid admitted to bumping their heads and the teacher gave up asking.

The incredible unfolding of learning that followed was a joy to observe. The group of around 10 kids then proceeded to build a launch platform, because the hill needed some augmentation. Next it needed obstacles, because rolling down a flat hill just isn’t good enough. The rubber tyre speed bumps grew into a pallet ramp. The ramp caused the stunt men (and women) to shoot out of the barrel like a circus performer shooting out of a cannon. The cohort were very concerned for everyone’s welfare, however that didn’t stop them from taking turns in being human guinea pigs as they fine tuned their endeavor. After 1 hour they ended up with what is photographed. The launch ramp was located at the bottom of the hill, barrel guard rails were erected, and logs marked the track from top to bottom. Before each launch, the victim, I mean experimenter, was interviewed (the microphone was a 4 metre flexible pipe that would transmit to a third party), an MC would announce the proceedings and a chorus of onlookers would countdown from 10. A successful attempt was met with massive applause, while a crash was met with a concerned pause then a massive applause. The barrel ‘rollee’ was then interviewed and asked to comment on the ride. Every failed attempt fueled the cohort to break into a crazed discussion as to where they could have gone wrong. After 20 or so minutes a series of rules were established by the kids. It took 40 minutes before one of the children worked out that the ramp should be wider than the barrels. Maybe that would stop them flying off at outrageous angles. A little while after that they decide to put more tires after the ramp to soften the fall. As teachers, we adults just looked on, wanting so much to help them, yet we stood back as passive observers with band-aids at hand.

For a laugh I decided to pick a grade 7 achievement standard and see if this activity met it. Check this one out.

‘Students create structured and coherent texts for a range of purposes and audiences. They make presentations and contribute actively to class and group discussions, using language features to engage the audience. When creating and editing texts they demonstrate understanding of grammar, use a variety of more specialised vocabulary and accurate spelling and punctuation.’

Though no writing was part of this, text can also be oral. When it states ‘Students create structured and coherent texts for a range of purposes and audiences’ I thought of the students sharing their head injuries with each other but not their teacher. When they bumped their head they would say to their fellow daredevils “ OMG! Did you see that! I thought I was going to die. How much air did I get?”. Their audience was their fellow risk taker and the purpose was to share the excitement, however when they talked to the teacher, knowing a small bump to the head would require an office visit, they would change the mode of their voice, and say something along the lines of “ wow, that was fun. I thought was going to nearly bump my head there for a minut”.

One excerpt from the standards that couldn’t be missed by anyone was “They …. contribute actively to class and group discussions”. This activity led to 100% engagement from a large group of students. It was very loud and appeared chaotic. When a quietly spoken lad mentioned the width of the ramp as being something to consider, the group heard him and made changes. One student’s idea was grabbed by another student and built upon, then another student grabbed that and built upon it again. Sometimes a discussion was agreed upon by the sheer numbers of students who wanted change, other times it was because someone had an interesting idea that was sold well.

If rolling down the hill in a barrel can meet year 7 English achievement standards, imagine what STEM (or STEAM) achievements it could meet.

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