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The surprising fascination of ramps

GALT ROLLER RAMP. pound;49.95 (exc VAT). Age range: 5-11.

Now this sounds a bit daft: a science ramp and vehicle, in a very big box, for about pound;50. So what do you get for your money?

Well, there's a metre-long ramp. A solid product, made of MDF and softwood, with a clever system to adjust the height at the top end. It is designed so that budding engineers can set up an accurate gradient of between 10 and 30 degrees. You can also set up smaller gradients by turning the support back to front - or if you don't read the assembly instructions properly.

You could use your own vehicle, but the one provided is rather nice: a chunky open-back lorry. And there are 16 wheels. That makes it sound like a juggernaut, but in fact you get four sets of four wheels in graduating sizes. So you can investigate how their circumference affects the lorry's speed, distance covered, friction and so on.

The basic ramp has a smooth and slippery surface, but you can buy a pack of five overlays for the road surface with different textures, so you can experiment with their effect on the vehicle's velocity. There's a rubber surface and something called corriflute. For those who prefer a more abrasive approach, there's a sandpaper surface. Or for a slither downhill, there's a layer of white plastic. And for those who want sheer luxury, what better than a piece of carpet?

Now this is getting more interesting. Having chosen your different roads, you can practise split-second timing and accurate measurements for the journey down the ramp and across the classroom floor. You have a chance to investigate the effect of variable forces.

And in case you haven't got any more ideas for using all this, you can get a Ramp Resource Pack, written by Supportive Learning Publications. It has 20 photocopiable worksheets with simple text and some very good ideas for science exercises, such as comparing cars, comparing and investigating the effect of different loads on the lorry, comparing wet and dry conditions, comparing different ramp and floor surfaces, going uphill (just to be different), pushing and pulling, DIY ramp-building ideas, the short and long of ramps, different gradients and so forth.

Of course, you could also build your own car to go with your ramp, construct crash barriers, test different types of bumper, make cosmetic changes to the design of your vehicle. All of which keeps everyone busy and investigating all day long. And out of mischief. Who said it was daft? Not me.

* GaltHope Education, Orb Mill, Huddersfield Road, Oldham, Lancs OL4 2ST. Tel: 0161-633 6611. Stand B4

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