Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting back to teaching - with Mouse Trap Car based Physics

Although I love my job, and feel that I am extremely fortunate to be in the place that I am, but I miss having a classroom that is my own. Every once in awhile I get the opportunity to work with middle or high school students again, if only for short periods of time, but this summer I had a classroom again for an entire week. It was good for me to experience the good and the bad of classroom management, technology issues, and all around classroom antics.

But mostly what I loved was working with kids to BUILD & CREATE something! I am a creative spirit at heart and find that I learn more about geometry by making a quilt, or more about Physics by making a car. This summer I had students for an entire week (in daily 1.5 hour sessions) and decided to build mousetrap cars. I wanted a hands on project, but also one that required an understanding of science to work well. I found lots of examples on building MouseTrap Cars, or them being used, but found very few sources that were rooted in the scientific process (that I didn't have to pay for). The best video was actually from a John Hopkins University - and worked as a good introduction or inspiration for the class.

As a subscriber to Make magazine, I had known about Instructables, but found their tutorial invaluable. My goal was to make these cars out of everyday household items for as cheaply as possible. I didn't want to go the "pinewood derby" route and have blank kits that are offered by several companies, including Doc Fizzix.

I found that the PBS website Games People Play also gave me a good place to start, but really didn't focus enough on the science, while the Boise State University Engineering project had a bit more than I wanted. In the end I checked out some books from the library, and used the Vernier Logger Pro video software to collect data (I mean I can't do a lesson without technology, now can I :) for acceleration & velocity.

All in all I ended up having a wonderful time, I got to really connect with a group of kids, and hoped I showed them a bit more about what Physics is all about. I created a Wiki page with my lesson plan at http://bethanyvsmith.pbworks.com/mousetrap and have all of my resources linked at http://delicious.com/bethanyvsmith/mousetrap.

I highly recommend you build a mousetrap car, either for class or just for fun!