Walls: Discovering Invisible Forces
(click to enlarge)
What's this?
How does this work?
I don't care. It's fun.
With thin sheet magnets and a metal wall, anything is possible, including a game of hoops.

The two or three times I've come across metal walls in classrooms, I've noticed that none of them had magnets attached to them. Magnetism, the one characteristic of metal walls that most of us would consider useful or even serendipitous, as opposed to cold and impersonal, is somehow ignored in learning places - odd, considering the average home refrigerator door is usually covered with the letters of the alphabet, photo holders, magnetic note pads and novelty gags of all kinds.

I don't think there is some kind of anti-magnetism bias out there as many teachers have magnet boards in their rooms for kids to play with. But the idea that a metal wall is just that - a wall - and is often overlooked as a medium of creative activity - is puzzling. In fact, most blackboards nowadays are metal but I've never seen evidence of the mental leap necessary to turn part of it into the classroom equivalent of a refrigerator.

Gary noticed this when he was asked to design a play room for developmentally disabled kids at the New Haven Regional Center. Even though the partitions in the building were modular steel panels, and had been chosen with the option in mind, none were adorned with magnets. It seems that inter-office communication between the education staff and the purchasing office had broken down.

So, when Gary introduced a boxful of flexible chart magnets to Kevin one day, he broke into action, paused to puzzle over the magic he was experiencing and then quickly returned to the wall to play some more.

P.S. A more recent experiment with magnetism combined some 3/8" plywood, a spackle bucket with its bottom cut off and a sheet of that stick-on flexible magnet to create a movable basketball hoop for Michael Jordans of all sizes.

Next physics lesson: INERTIA

Growing Places