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The possible connections with your curriculum

  • Physical Sciences
  • Science
  • Design
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Art
  • Geography
  • Social Sciences
  • Language


The people who take up the teacher role

  • Teacher
  • Expert
  • Informal education facilitator
  • Parent
  • School students


The locations where learning takes place

  • Classroom
  • Outdoor spaces
  • Digital space
  • Science museum/center
  • Other spaces in school


The community stakeholders to collaborate with

  • Families
  • Other schools
  • Community services
  • Local businesses
  • Municipality

The big idea

Playgrounds are a central part of childrens' outdoor play experiences. They are created as safe spaces; they encourage personal independence, develop both motor and social skills and improve childrens' wellbeing. Of course playgrounds are primarily for play - it's in the name - but playing and learning can happen at the same time, from observing physical principles to experimentation. We're interested in the possibility of using playground environment and equipment as vehicles for learning. Let the children play! (83 words)

The challenge

Bringing STEM to the wide range of people that use a playground located in a vulnerable neighbourhood; presenting the principles of physics in an experiential and user-friendly way.

Main goals

  • Raise awareness that science is everywhere and learning doesn’t only take place within school walls.
  • Increase the neighbourhood’s scientific capital by upgrading a regular playground to a “scientific playground”.
  • Promote cooperation between schools in the community whilst strengthening ties with community actors.

Main messages

  • The principles of physics in general - and Newton's laws of motion in particular - can be seen everywhere and are relevant to our daily lives (the playground as a research laboratory, etc.).
  • Newton's laws allow us to understand how the world around us works, and should be basic knowledge for every citizen in the 21st century.
  • Public spaces are designed according to their function and to accommodate a wide range of users.

Short abstract

During the Learning Scenario, students will experientially learn the principles of physics that can be observed in playgrounds in general and on playground equipment in particular. They will meet with an environmental design expert, visit a science museum, and apply what they have learnt to formulate. They will design captioned plaques which include information and ideas for activities using the playground equipment. The captions, which will be designed and produced together with the science museum and other municipal bodies, will improve the playground experience while propagating knowledge and understanding of STEM fields. At the end of the Scenario, there will be a scientific playground inaugural event, to which the students of a nearby elementary school will be invited, and with whom the students will share their insights from the learning process.

Learning Units (9)


Part A - Motivating students to participate in the scenario by watching entertaining videos and discussing the everyday phenomena and experiences which can be explained through the laws of physics. Part B - Preparation for a visit to a playground. Students will work in groups to formulate research questions and design experiments that can be conducted using the different types of playground equipment. Students will put their research questions, experiment plans, and hypotheses onto research cards that they will use during the visit to the playground at the next session.


Students will explore different parts of the playground. The session will begin with an observation of the various elements in and around the playground designed to serve the users, such as benches, waste bins, and shaded areas. Students will examine the types of flooring found on the various playground areas, before focusing on the specific playground equipment. Students will work in groups and explore each structure and area of the playground according to the research cards they prepared in the previous session.


Students visit the science museum where they will participate in a demonstration, take part in a guided tour, and work in independent groups. Students will experiment with Newton's laws and with the scientific and engineering principles associated with building structures. In addition, they will meet with a museum staff member (designer and/or curator) to learn about how to formulate and design explanatory captions.


This unit comprises a virtual or physical meeting with an architect/structural engineer who will explain how to design buildings and playgrounds, what factors and circumstances must be taken into account to maintain user safety, and how the laws of physics serve them in their work. Students will then ask questions.


A virtual or physical meeting with a landscape architect who will tell the students about the various aspects involved in the environmental planning of outdoor spaces in general and playgrounds in particular. Students will learn about how to create an open space that traverses the human-nature-city triangle, and how to take into account elements such as vegetation, shade planning, accessibility, and connection to the urban fabric. The lecture will focus on playgrounds and showcase interesting and innovative playgrounds from around the world.


A virtual or physical meeting with a placemaking artist. “Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalises on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being” (Wikipedia). Our project of creating information plaques for a playground is intrinsically related to this idea of ‘placemaking’, and as such, it is located in a broader cultural, social, and artistic context. In this session, we will meet with a placemaking artist, who will tell the students about projects they have carried out in different communities in order to expose students to this larger context and inspire ideas for their own project.


This is an extension unit. As playgrounds are places that allow children to take risks – run, swing, climb to great heights and slide down fast – this unit asks, how can these risks be managed in a calculated manner? One of the ways used to mitigate the risk of dangerous injuries on the playground (especially regarding falls from a height) is shock-absorbent flooring. In this unit, students will explore the properties of different types of playground ground surface, learn how they protect against injuries during a fall, and discover the surprising connection between them and successful (or unsuccessful!) spacecraft landings.


Using the knowledge gained from the previous units, students will create captioned information plaques for a neighbourhood playground. During this unit, the students will formulate the explanations for the physical phenomena that occur when using the playground equipment as well as suggestions for further activities and experiments. Students will be assisted by experts from various fields (curators of an exhibition, experts in the field of safety and placemaking) to help them think about how the plaques can be installed in a safe and suitable way.


Students will plan a special event at the playground for primary school students in the neighbourhood. During the event, students will teach the younger children some simple principles of physics, show them how they can be observed during a game, reveal the new playground plaques, and take part in a fun joint activity.

Teacher feedback

Aha moments

  • LU5: The physics of falling was the most inspiring unit, because the students were very active in the inquiry process, including deciding what to measure, as well as thinking about the means to measure it. I think what made it so compelling for me is that I myself had to go through the very same process as my students did.

Uh oh moments

  • LU1: Preparing questions for playground visit - I think we needed to spend more time on this, in order to give the students a chance to reflect and rewrite before going to the playground.
  • LU6: The planning phase - I had to split my attention between all of the students simultaneously; at times this was overwhelming. I would suggest getting more teachers involved in this part.

General tips

  • LU2 (Visit to playground): At times it felt that students used the playground time to play - this is legitimate, however I noticed it happened more when the students were in large groups, so I would suggest splitting the students to smaller groups so that they can focus on the task in hand (as well as playing!).