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Using Toys to Create a Global Connection

A force and motion investigation brings together third-grade students in the United States and Mexico.

Science and Children—July/August 2021 (Volume 58, Issue 6)

By Tiffany Pace

Using Toys to Create a Global Connection

“Can we do that again?” a student asked after the Skype call with our partner class in Mexico. The call was part of our global connection studies during a two-month unit on force and motion. Global connections are an important part of the elementary classroom as they help students develop empathy through interactions while allowing them to apply classroom learning to the outside world (Suvansri 2016).

Partnering with a classroom in another country was a goal of mine because through interactions and sharing of information, I hoped to create curiosity while helping my students build a global mindset in which they see how the concepts they are learning in class can be applied in different settings. Within a given classroom, students come with a variety of experiences they can build upon. For example, in my classroom I have students who have traveled around the United States and some who have never left our city. By providing a collaborative experience, all of my students would have the chance to go beyond the four walls of our classroom and experience a new culture. As a teacher, I was excited to exchange ideas and learn from my co-teacher in another country.

To create a partnership, I logged onto the Empatico website ( Emaptico is a free platform for teachers of students ages 6–11. After registering on the site, you choose at least two activities you would like to complete with your partner class (Empatico offers a variety of choices complete with lesson plans and ideas), provide the age of your students, times you would be available for live chats, and your preferred language for the chat (English or Spanish.) Next you will be given your “Potential Matches.” You can send as many invitations as you would like and soon you will be matched with your partnering class. At this time, Empatico offers the opportunity to be matched with one classroom. When you have been matched with your partner classroom, you connect with your partner teacher via your dashboard. Here you can send messages, photos, and even create live conferences.

My partner teacher and I had hoped to engage our students with several force and motion investigations by conferencing with one another and sharing photographs to show results of investigations. Our goals for sharing these investigations were to allow our students to collaborate on their findings and create a common solution. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our school years were disrupted and we were only able to share our initial global collaboration, an investigation on how force and motion are used in conjunction with the toys we play with at recess.

Getting Started

At the beginning of the unit on force and motion, my third-grade students completed several hands-on activities to gain an understanding of the various facets of force and motion including types of force (push or a pull); how force can be used to move or stop an object; friction; and gravity (see Supplemental Resources). These investigations included how force can change speed and direction using marshmallow “poppers”; how friction affects the speed and distance a car travels; and how the design of sails can maximize the force of wind. I chose to incorporate these investigations to help my students begin to understand the various elements of force because “research has reported significant benefits from the use of kinesthetic learning activities in scientific concepts’ understanding” (Tomara, Tselfes, and Gouscos 2017).

For our global connection, students began by examining how force is applied to toys during recess to achieve desired results. When using toys, be aware of projectiles and/or hazards and plan accordingly (safety goggles and create an area(s) for students to observe the movement of the toys). Students worked in groups of five or six to investigate a chosen recess toy and answer: Is the force balanced or unbalanced? How is force applied to achieve the desired results? and Is friction needed? Students worked together, recording the group’s answers either on a written paper or using Key Note or iMovie. The recording choices were given to allow students to express their ideas creatively while taking into account students’ accommodations, such as allowing students with restricted mobility to verbally answer questions.

Students meet their partner class in Mexico.

Making the Connection

Before we contacted our Emaptico partner class in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, to compare toys each class used at recess, I worked with my partner teacher to create the focus for our conference call. We both examined the “Ways We Play” resources offered by Empatico, which included an activity plan and learning goals. We decided to have our students show a few toys they play with during a school day. Students chose which toys would be presented to their peers because my partner teacher and I wanted the conference to be student-led. We also believed that by allowing student choice, our students would be more engaged. Students would show the toy, demonstrate how it is played, and then answer any questions regarding the toy. We also taught our classes how to use respectful communication such as making eye contact, focusing on what the person is saying, and responding in a respectful and positive manner. (The Emaptico site offers tips on how to teach these skills to your students.)

During the call, students in Mexico took turns showing how to apply force to a balero, trompo, jump rope, and basketball, and shared what the results of the applied force were. The balero is a cup-and-ball toy in which one holds the base of the cup with the goal of getting the ball (which is attached to a string at the base) into the cup. A trompo is a wooden top with a piece of unattached string wound around the bottom of it. When the string is pulled, the top is launched and begins to spin.

If any American students had questions, they would raise their hands and take turns asking questions. Their peers in Mexico would answer the questions. Each of the groups in our classroom chose one student to demonstrate how force is used to achieve the desired result for the toy. I held and moved the camera as students demonstrated each toy to best allow our partner class to see each toy’s demonstration. The toys we demonstrated included making a Dash robot move around the front of the room, how to play a handheld water ring toss toy, showing how to manipulate a steel ball through a maze with a Screwball Scramble game, and ways you can apply force to a soccer ball (this demonstration was practiced and spaced away from the class to help protect everyone from the ball. The student demonstrated how to gently kick the ball and how to balance and tap the ball from knee to knee.)

The class prepares to describe some of their favorite toys to their partner class.

Student Takeaway

After the 20-minute call, students immediately discussed differences of the toys demonstrated noting that our toys were “fancier.” When asked to explain, one student stated, “We have a lot of stuff and most of it is nicer than theirs. We need to start being more thankful for what we have in school and at home.” Students also found similarities in the toys our partner class presented. For example, students realized the balero was similar to the scoop ball game they play outside at recess with the only difference being the ball for their game is not connected to the scoop. When the trompo was shown, they compared it to a toy spinning top (minus the string) as well as a yo-yo in that the string of both the trompo and yo-yo facilitate the spinning. This showed how students were able to use observed patterns to predict/understand how a toy worked.

Students then rejoined their small groups and for 15 minutes answered the same questions previously answered about their toys, but this time using either of the new toys that were introduced by their Mexican peers (balero or trompo). I chose the two toys because they were most unfamiliar to students and therefore would offer the opportunity for students use their knowledge of force and motion and observed patterns to analyze movement. Screenshots of the toys our peers demonstrated were air dropped to student devices. Students could use the photos to compare/contrast the toys with toys they were familiar with and to enlarge the photos to look at each part of the toys. Students then discussed as a whole group how they observed their peers from Mexico applying force and motion to the toys they used at recess. Michaels, Shouse, and Schweingruber (2008) state, “in order to process, make sense of, and learn from their ideas, observations, and experiences, students must talk about them.” Groups were allowed to revise their answers after new information was presented during discussions. For example, one student stated, “I thought the trompo used a push because it looked like he (peer) pushed the toy away from him. Now I see how he used a pull by pulling the string.” Another student stated, “For me, I remembered how I shoot a basket and I thought of me being the ball on string for the balero and how I have to push the ball up.”

This experience helped students to not only have the chance to apply their knowledge of force and motion to new materials based upon observed patterns but also helped them create connections with peers from another country. During the call, students also learned about Mexico’s Revolution Day as our peer class was celebrating this holiday. The students from Mexico explained how they celebrate by wearing colorful outfits and how their families brought special foods for their lunch that day including enchiladas and fajitas. They also showed us a dance and sang a song. Students continued this global peer relationship until the end of May by sharing photographs of additional science experiences, holiday celebrations, and even their participation in various sports.

At the start of the 2020 school year, my partner teacher was no longer teaching. Empatico was able to quickly partner me with a teacher in Nicaragua. Again, due to the COVID pandemic and being quarantined and on remote learning, our first collaborative call took place in February. We discussed how we celebrate our birthdays with students noting similarities and differences such as how my students typically decorate their entire homes for birthday celebrations and our peers in Nicaragua typically only decorate an area similar to a photo booth. My students loved seeing how their peers celebrate with some of the same favorite characters such as those from the movie “Coco,” Disney princesses, and Lego. During our next call, we discussed how we spent our spring break vacations, paying particular attention to the similarities and differences in our weather during this time period. This allowed my students a point of reference as we began to learn about additional climates and temperatures. We are excited for our next call in which we hope to complete a STEM project together!


Through collaboration with their partner class, students were able to apply their knowledge of force and motion to a real-life situation. They used patterns of observation from known toys to help investigate and describe how previously unknown toys (balero and trompo) use force and motion to achieve desired results. As we continue partnering with a peer classroom, we hope to collaborate on additional investigations including climates and creating solutions to reduce the impacts of a weather-related hazard as well as creating solutions to environmental changes that affect plants and animals. These experiences will not only allow global collaboration on scientific investigations but will allow all students to better understand one another’s cultures, spark curiosities, and work together for solutions. After all, as one student stated, “We really are more alike than different, and just imagine how we could change the world if we worked together!”

Supplemental Resources

Download the activities students participated in, the Standards connections, and the questions asked to the partner class at

Tiffany Pace ( is a teacher at Weberwood Elementary in South Charleston, West Virginia.


Michaels, S., A. Shouse, and H. Schweingruber. 2008. Ready, set, science!: Putting research to work in K–8 science classrooms. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Suvansri, B. 2016. Creating Meaningful Global Connections.

Tomara, M., V. Tselfes, and D. Gouscos. 2017. Instruction strategies to promote conceptual change about force and motion: A review of literature. Themes in Science and Technology Education 10 (1): 1–16.

Multilingual Learners Multicultural STEM Teaching Strategies Technology

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