Learning about science isn't necessarily a drag

Soccer balls, sumo suits, hip-hop spice up lesson

September 26, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Joshua Leary ran across the stage and jumped on a springboard, becoming airborne before a fabric fastener-covered wall abruptly ended his brief flight.

Carlos Bonilla went next, landing with his arms and legs splayed across the wall.

"It was so cool ... like flying in the air," said Carlos, an eighth-grader at Deep Creek Middle School.

Other pupils at the Essex school raced carbon dioxide-powered "dragsters" or kicked gargantuan soccer balls, while two teachers squared off in an oversized sumo wrestling match - all in the name of science.

Deep Creek, a technology magnet school, hosted a performance of a science education show called FMA Live!, a presentation of skits and demonstrations accompanied by hip-hop music that is intended to illustrate the principles of Newtonian physics and get young people interested in science.

FMA Live! was created in 2004 as a collaboration between Honeywell and NASA and is named for Newton's Second Law of Motion (force equals mass times acceleration). The program was initiated after a Honeywell study projected that job opportunities in science, math and engineering will increase in the coming years far faster than the number of people pursuing those fields.

The school was one of 30 selected for the show's nine-week, 21-city tour throughout the United States and Canada. The 45-minute performance was put on by three performers assisted by two teachers, the assistant principal and several pupils, and aimed to help the middle-schoolers experience Newton's laws of motion.

"I hope that this show will spark the students' interest and give them a little to chew on," said Deep Creek Principal Anissa Brown Dennis.

The show also might get across to pupils that science can be fun, said Jennifer Forgnoni, who chairs the school's science department.

"This show is a way for students to see and experience Newton's laws of motion in real-life experiences," she said. "Kids think that what they see in the classroom is all there is to science."

The fabric fastener wall bit demonstrated the concept of inertia, Newton's first law of motion - objects in motion or at rest stay that way unless acted on by an outside force.

"Carlos and Joshua were stopped by an outside force, which in this case was the Velcro wall," performer Chase Benz told the group of about 300 seventh-grade spectators after the demonstration.

To demonstrate Newton's Second Law of Motion, pupil Lauren Carpenter was instructed to kick three soccer balls. The first one was a normal-size ball that she sent sailing into the net. Then she kicked a ball about 3 feet tall, and it slowly edged toward the net.

Finally, a ball about 6 feet tall was rolled onto the stage and Lauren thumped her foot into the side of the ball. It didn't budge.

"Lauren would have to have a leg as tall as the Statue of Liberty to kick this ball," performer Candi Hall said.

Teachers got into the act, too.

In another skit designed to showcase the Second Law of Motion, science teachers Petra Cleary and Michelle Antinozzi donned oversized, padded sumo costumes and helmets and hobbled onto the stage for a wrestling match.

The audience called out, "Three, two, one, rumble!" and the teachers bumped into each other, trying to knock the opponent to the floor while the crowd cheered them on.

The show's finale included a surprise for Assistant Principal Alain Chalmin.

Chalmin was wheeled onto the stage in a futuristic-looking chair that hovered about one-eighth of an inch above ground. The chair was in motion until an outside force - in this case a large pie to the face - stopped it.

Despite a face full of whipped cream, Chalmin said bringing the show to Deep Creek and demonstrating science concepts for pupils was well worth it.

"The students needed to see that this project was a team effort," Chalmin said. "They need to know that the teachers and administration are as supportive of the program as they are enthusiastic about it."

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