Students who traveled anywhere between the Eagle Scout Deck and purple locker pod Nov. 11 likely took notice of the large yellow and red carnival ride in the middle of the sidewalk. Physics teacher Roger Siegel used the popular self-propelled carnival ride “The Wizzer” to help demonstrate the real-life applications of physics.
Amusement park physics is a long-standing branch of the science, and one which is popular among students. Many theme parks, such as Busch Gardens and Six Flags, offer physics days where students can ride roller coasters and learn about the physics that allow them to work. Siegel wanted to apply the same method of teaching to his AP Physics I class. He said, “Amusement park rides are prefect for physics because they really take motion to the extreme. They’re very good for teaching,” he said.
When Siegel witnessed The Wizzer at the Pine View fair, his first thought was, “We could use that machine to teach rotation.” Since his classes had just begun a unit on rotation, he asked Administration if it would be possible to use the ride as a teaching tool. The School Board allowed the lesson, but did require parental permission slips.
Siegel’s students had recently studied uniform circular motion, and therefore were capable of taking various measurements of the ride. “We were able to measure the velocity of the riders, we were able to measure the forces that they were experiencing on their bodies, and also to predict them, but also at the same time we had an instrument that could measure the forces. Those two things together were how we were able to take some physical measurements from it,” Siegel said.
The activity involved students from multiple grade levels. Middle school science teachers Hali Flahavan and Steve Dacey as well as elementary teacher Andy Vitkus brought their classes out to the ride, where they participated by taking measurements and doing activities. “I’m grateful to be involved, and I’m happy that the seventh-graders had the opportunity to work alongside AP Physics students. I think that they’ll remember the real life applications, and remember the science, even if it didn’t seem like science,” Flahavan said.
Siegel had an interest in another carnival ride, the Gravitron, which suspends students up against the wall, and therefore would be very interesting to study gravitational motion. However, because of costs and space, he was unable to incorporate it into the course. He plans, however, to possibly offer extra credit to students who ride the Gravitron at the Sarasota County Fair and take measurements on it.
Regarding the project’s impact, Siegel said,
20 years from now, most of the students will not remember any of the formulas they learned or much of the physics that I taught them. But they will remember that day that they got to ride The Wizzer at school and how much fun it was to see the physics in action. It’s similar to an English class going to see a play. It’s hard to draw a straight line from seeing that play to doing better on the SAT, but we know that there’s a line, we know that that experience enriches people so I feel very positive about it.”
Tenth-grader and physics student Sloane Kolesar said, “It taught us the real life application of uniform circular motion through a really fun and exciting experience.”