In one elementary school, building an obstacle course creates an opportunity for learning in the first grade.

Soft SkillsTeacher Vicky Novak overheard a conversation between two of her students, and came up with a brilliant idea.

“At snack time, they were talking about [the TV show] ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and that sparked an idea in me,” she said. “I was just about to teach them how to identify and create shapes, and I thought this would be a way to have them think about shapes from an engineering point of view.”

Students then began to make their own obstacles such as what they saw on the show.  This turned out to be a fun way to learn about shapes.

“There’s a new way to teach kids using project-based learning,” said Novak. “You present a project to them and they come up with what they need to do to complete it. One of our math standards is teaching about shapes by identifying them in the environment. So their challenge was seeing how they could use shapes in the environment to create obstacles for the next season of ‘American Ninja Warrior.’”

Children made plans using videos of participants on the show completing the obstacle course.  They then discussed shapes that were shown and how each shape helped or hindered people going through the course.  “They saw, for example, how they could use circular hooks to get across, rectangles to slide down and how circles made moving harder because they spin,” said Novak.

Then the children created shapes with various materials in the school Innovation Space, which is new this year.  “It’s an amazing room where the kids can create things,” said Novak.

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