My classes just wrapped up studying balance. Students built (metaphorical) models to describe their understanding of center-pivot balance as well as off-center and massed-beam balance.

The project I assigned them was to build a mobile with a group of three or four members that both reflects who they are as individuals and is centered on some theme that unites them. Here are a few of my favorite mobiles.

Materials:

• 1/4″ and 3/8″ wooden dowels
• A variety of string/twine/small diameter rope
• Lightweight materials that can become masses on the mobile — don’t exceed 2kg overall if you expect to hang the thing in your classroom

What order should I have done this in? I saw two options:

Math first, building second: students draw a mobile, decide on which masses and will go where. Confirm that it should balance theoretically. Then get out the materials and build.

Building first, math second: students create a balanced mobile by trial and error. Then, apply the model of balance they created earlier in the course to prove why it balances.

We did option 2 and I was partially satisfied with the results. Several students reflected afterwards that they’d have preferred option 1 because they would’ve had an easier time building (that’s debatable, I think).