Published 12:00 am Friday, June 28, 2013

FAITH — Teachers aren’t supposed to have this much fun, so they fiendishly disguised it Thursday morning as science.
“That was so good,” third-grade teacher Brandi Sifford said after flying down the Corkscrew Slide, made slicker with some applications of Pledge furniture polish. “It was way faster than I thought it would be.”
Sifford was among 65 teachers unleashed on the amusement rides at Faith’s Fourth of July celebration. Their mission: to understand the physics at work behind the midway thrills such as the Round Up, Hurricane, Himalaya, SuperSlide, Corkscrew Slide — even the merry-go-round.
The Hurricane sends passengers up and down while they are spinning fast in a counter-clockwise direction. No problem for Terrance Crawford, a third-grade teacher at Isenberg Elementary.
“I was good the entire way,” he said. “I have a strong stomach.”
Crawford wore a data vest, which held a LabQuest computer with monitor. This computer and its software were connected to a sensor, which Crawford held in front of him as his “boat” was tossed by the Hurricane.
The teachers — Mary Anne Parrish of Faith Elementary and Paula Lambert of Shive Elementary also were in Crawford’s group — measured things such as circular speed, centripetal acceleration, centripetal force and the duration of their ride.
The data collector gave them critical information they needed, with a graph corresponding to highs and lows and when the ride leveled out.
Each group of teachers was supposed to choose one ride to focus on for their “project.” With the help of an iMovie, the groups later had to present what they found out about the physics behind their amusement rides.
Billy Clark, owner of Smokey Mountain Amusements, graciously opened up these particular midway rides for the teachers-only morning of research, part of the Summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Institute.
“This is amazing they would open it up for us — perfect timing,” said Laura Murdoch, who teaches eighth-grade science at Erwin Middle School.
The three-year summer institute — this is the third year — was funded through a federal Mathematics and Science Partnership grant. It aims at improving the teaching of science and student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.
STEM faculty from Horizons Unlimited and Catawba and Pfeiffer colleges led the two-week institute, which ends today. It was designed for kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers.
Lisa Wear, director for Horizons Unlimited, said 185 teachers have participated in the institute over the three years. Some of the teachers attended all three years.
It was Hillary Shores’ first year.
“Each day, I’ve learned something I can teach in the classroom,” said Shores, a middle school science teacher at Sacred Heart.
The third-grade science curriculum includes the study of forces in motion, Parish said, so the amusement ride research is applicable and something kids can readily understand.
“If it hadn’t been for this program the last three years,” Parrish added of the institute in general, “I’d be lost.”
The institute found other ways for teachers to have fun with science, math, engineering and technology. They built catapults and slingshots. They played with Legos, rode race cars and floated balloons.
The three-year grant also paid for some Rowan County teachers to attend the National Science Conference.
Murdoch was doing her amusement ride research with Dawn Hunter, the seventh-grade science teacher at Erwin Middle. After Murdoch went spinning up and down on the aptly named Round Up, she said it was a perfect ride for the physics properties they were studying.
Murdoch also rode the Hurricane and Himalaya.
“That one’s not scary, but you get a cramp in your neck,” Murdoch said of the Hurricane.
Shores was research partner with Rod Harrington and Angie Strode, both science teachers at North Rowan Middle School. They decided to make their movie and present their physics analysis on the SuperSlide, where people ride a burlap sack down an undulating slide in one of three different lanes.
The group judged the middle lane to be the fastest, but Strode, Harrington and Shores donned their data vests and made numerous runs — at least two in each lane — to have the information they needed for comparisons.
They were taking into account friction, gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, time, acceleration and exit speed, while also shooting video on the iPads the institute furnished.
In the afternoon, the teachers went onto the Faith playground and into the gym for more lessons in physics.
They were rolling items down the sliding board, dropping balls from high places, using playground swings as pendulums and employing the merry-go-round to simulate the launching of a space probe from a spinning planet.
In the gymnasium, the teachers measured acceleration on scooters and studied the effects of air pressure on a basketball.
The great thing is that during the school year the hand-held computers and sensors used in all the experiments Thursday are available to the teachers from Horizons Unlimited.
On the first day of the summer institute two weeks ago, the participants took a pre-test, judging how much they knew or had retained on various scientific principles.
Today, at the end of the institute, the teachers will have a post-test to see what they’ve learned.
“I’ll know way more,” Sifford predicted.
So how fast did Sifford’s data vest computer say she was going down the Corkscrew Slide?
“Actually, I didn’t even turn it on, I was so nervous,” Sifford laughed.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or