Recently, I worked with a group of primary students (Kindergarten-2nd grade) to create a miniature golf course. Each student was in charge of creating a hole for the course. The first week, students were each given a large sheet of corrugated plastic, but cardboard would also work well for this. Students mapped out their plans, using recycled materials such as paper tubes, cups, yarn, and paper. Students balled up foil to create golf balls and used yardsticks as putters to test out their design in the beginning stages.
As students progressed, they glued on their obstacles in their permanent places. Each student had a course much different from others. One student had an inclined plane leading to the hole, another, younger student, had a scattering of corks and tubes as obstacles. This project allowed for a lot of creativity and play while also learning about angles and proportions.
In the final stages, students added in a microcontroller with a servo motor. They found ways to add blades to their motors to create a moving obstacle. The best part was when students were finished, they were all able to share their designs by playing each other’s obstacles.
Reflecting on this activity, I felt it was very similar to the wonders of pinball machines or marble runs in the making world. Fellow Cassia Fernandez did a wonderful post on pinball machines in relation to physical programming and also highlighted how the activity allows for such diversity in the design and making process. Similar to pinball machines, this idea of miniature golf courses can be done with many materials and can be made with much greater complexity depending on your audience. Students ready for advanced programming could add in multiple sensors, lights, and motors. Even my kindergarten students wanted to find ways to program the motor rebound the ball for them. While the programming experience was not there for my youngest students yet, their imagination was, which is so much of the process and experience.