You could say I’m a fan of GeoTrax by Fisher-Price, and you’d only be slightly understating my passion for this toy system. (Although I’m devastated that Fisher-Price isn’t making them anymore.) When brainstorming my next preschool unit on the letter J, the first word that came into my mind was Junction. Junction is both a civil and electrical engineering concept – so our engineering in action for this unit is J is for Junction.
to introduce children to the concept of junctions and their functions from a civil engineering perspective.
Junction: a place where two things connect. In civil engineering, a junction occurs when two roads or railroad tracks intersect. They do not need to intersect on the same level (overpasses are also junctions).
Model train tracks (we used GeoTrax because of my aforementioned obsession.)
Examples of junctions, available here
Explain what a junction is and have the printable available so that the children can reference it during their planning process.
Start by telling the children that they are civil engineers and have been “hired” to draw up plans for a new railroad. The plans have to include a route going from one city to another city, and at least (insert number) of junctions. We used three junctions because of the amount of track we had. We also added other things railroad had to have in the plans: one station, two s-curves, and one hill. The requirements for the railroad will depend on the space available to build it and the amount of track and accessories available.
Give the children plenty of time to create their railroad routes on paper. We went through a step by step process together before the children started on their plans. I explained that first, where the cities needed to be on the plans should be drawn. Next, we drew a straight line connecting them as a guideline. After that, we put in our junctions and decided how they would work on the railroad. Next, we added our other requirements. Then, together, it was time to decide on one plan to build. Have the children read the plans and construct the railroad. (one of the reasons I love GeoTrax so much is that they can be put together in any way and by young children.)
We chose to construct my Kindergartner’s plans. My preschooler loved looking at the plans, getting the right piece and placing it on the track. My Kindergartner also loved creating the curves and turns and making sure the junctions were properly installed. I loved watching the give and take and cooperation between the two.
Once the basic railroad construction is finished, spend some time setting up the scenes along the railroad – just to make it fun. Now, the railroad is set to go.
My older children came home from school just as we were finishing construction. They immediately wanted to make adjustments and play with the tracks. I made them all wait a few minutes while I filmed the track being used exactly as our “civil engineers” had prescribed.
After I had taken the video, all the children were allowed to play with the tracks. It was gratifying to watch my preschooler and Kindergartner teach my fourth and second graders about junctions and how they work. The activity has a great way to teach the function of junctions.