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Play Pump

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Imaginative inquiry
Topic: Energy transfer

A South African company has found a way to harness children's energy to solve water supply problems in rural villages. It uses playground roundabouts to power borehole water pumps! This activity gets students to calculate spinning times for roundabouts supplying water in both African and British situations. It also asks students to design devices using play or gym equipment to provide energy for cooking, television or anything else. Many thanks to Roundabout for permission to use the photographs and diagram on the activity. Contact them via or phone +00 27 11 807 428.

Published: 27th April 2005
Reviews & Comments: 7

Learning objectives

Students will learn about the energy transfers in the South African roundabout play pump.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

9i energy and electricity
� Useful energy changes usually involve energy transfers and transformations
� The terms 'kinetic', 'potential' and 'chemical' are useful when describing energy
� Electrical circuits are used to perform a variety of useful tasks
� Electrical energy is transferred around circuits and is transformed in components
� Identify devices and situations that act as energy stores

Running the activity

The newspaper headlines on page 1 state the problem – the majority of the world's people do not have access to adequate clean water supplies. It pictures one solution – the South African roundabout pump. This page can be projected or displayed as an OHT. Page 2 describes the pump – how it works, who benefits, its cost and how much water it can pump. Again, this page can be projected or displayed as an OHT. Page 3 sets the tasks – and includes space for students' responses: how much spinning provides a day's water (in rural Africa and in the UK)? Can you design a device that uses play or gym equipment to provide energy for cooking, television or anything else? Each student – or small group – needs their own copy of this page.

Answers to the calculations:
Africa: 40 families x 50 litres = 2000 litres per day
2000 litres / 1, 400 litres per hour = 1.43 hours or 1 hour 26 min
UK: 10 times as much water is needed so it would take 10 times longer = 14.3 hours or 14 hours 18 minutes – the pump cannot be used this much!

This activity does not mention recent research indicating that, in some areas, groundwater supplies are drying out as water is abstracted faster than it is replenished.

News links

New Scientist
This is the story about roundabout water pumps in South Africa
This article states, in stark terms, the problems of world water supply
This site – from Eco-Schools – suggests how to prevent water wastage and includes calculations to illustrate some of the issues.
Water Conservation
Look at this site for lots of not-so-trivial trivia about water use
Water Diary
This is a water use diary for students to fill in
Water Audit
This site – from a UK water supplier – offers the opportunity to do your very own Water Audit.
The Roundabout company's website - well worth a look!

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Differentiated Learning

Oct 28th, 2013

5 Star

Used this with Year 9. Great engagement, promoted discussion and innovative thinking. Worked really well in a differentiated classroom, allowing learners of all levels to contribute.

Reviewer: Renee Raroa

play pump

Nov 30th, 2009

5 Star

excellent resource - calculations especially good for the more able. worked as project and was mooted as a proposed project in Africa.


the Play Pump

Mar 10th, 2008

5 Star

The activity is fun and enjoyable yet stimulates learners to learn and lessens the burden on teacher. Pupils think they are playing and having fun and it truely is, however, they learn as well.
It is straight forward and easy. You can adapt it to suit your group.
The Play Pump is fantastic.

Reviewer: Alexander Nutsugah

Play Pump Oct 06

Oct 11th, 2006

4 Star

Did this with a very low ability year 9 group the lesson after we had done very basic energy changers. Promoted some excellent discussion work on social and economic advantages. Pupils were impressed by the simplicity of the idea and the efficiency of the pump.
Provided stimulus for poster work on posible other adaptations of play equipment. Would definitely use again.

Reviewer: Jill Cadwaladr

Play Pump review

May 7th, 2006

3 Star

I used this activity post SAT's last year, and will be doing the same this year. The pupils sre interested to learn about water problems in other countries, and come up with some interesting ideas. They seem to really enjoy this project, and i have recommended it to my colleagues too.

Reviewer: Kathryn Weeks

Play pump

Jun 11th, 2005

3 Star

I used this activity on interview, the same group of y9's had received 3 lessons of 30 minutes on energy transfers, so by the time it came to mine they were well versed on the basics. This activity provided an interesting link to the work. They came up with the idea that the children shouldn't " overdo " it as they would run out of water. There were also lots of suggestions for applications of to other play equipment. Lots of engagement by students, good cross curricular links.

Reviewer: Sue Whelan

Play Pump

May 17th, 2005

4 Star

Great for year 9's post SAT's. Groups were engaged with the activity but found a few of the suggested web links a little tenuous and/or dull and repetitive. They were keen to come up with ideas of there own using swings or see-saws to do similar jobs or even to power generators so they could watch TV! (Chris Hayton - KS3 St Gregory's Catholic HS, Warrington)

Reviewer: Chris Hayton