Pennbrook stu­dents build roller­doast­ers ...

North Penn Life - - FRONT PAGE - By Jennifer Law­son jlaw­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com

Four­teen-year-old Matthew Rinck set his team’s roller coaster car at the top of the track and re­leased it.

It whirled around the wall-mounted track that tech­nol­ogy ed­u­ca­tion teacher An­drew Holl­stein built out of K’Nex con­struc­tion toys, and then, tragedy — a half-inch ball bear­ing rep­re­sent­ing a perVRn flHw RuW RI WKH FDr.

“We lost one,” Matthew said.

HH LGHnWL­fiHG WKH SrREOHP — an is­sue with the seat belt. The rub­ber bands hold­ing the ball bear­ings in place were too close to­gether, so he added an­other band.

This is what Holl­stein in­tended to show the stu­dents in his eighth-grade ex­plor­ing tech­nol­ogy class — how to prob­lem solve by ap­ply­ing prin­ci­ples of en­gi­neer­ing and science while hav­ing fun at the same time.

It took Holl­stein more than a month to build the roller coaster track. He re­ceived a $600 grant from the North Penn Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion for the sup­plies.

He got the idea from an on­line post­ing by a teacher in Canada, who de­tailed how to build the track and mount it to the wall, as well as the learn­ing out­comes for the stu­dents.

“It gives them a com­plete pic­ture,” he said. “They’re learn­ing about cen­trifu­gal force, ki­netic en­ergy, New­ton’s Law of Mo­tion. They have to do the re­search and un­der­stand the con­cepts and how the forces work. If some­thing goes wrong, you say, ‘OK, that didn’t work, what do I do dif­fer­ently?’” The dozen stu­dents in Holl­stein’s class are given a bud­get of $250,000 in imag­i­nary money to cre­ate a suc­cess­ful coaster car. A test run on the track costs them $10,000, for ex­am­ple, and sup­plies such as ex­tra rub­ber bands run into the thou­sands. If a ball bear­ing, or “per­son,” falls out dur­ing a test run, stu­dents are docked $40,000 in le­gal fees. The goal is for them to come up with the best pos­si­ble de­sign and have as much money as pos­si­ble re­main­ing, Holl­stein said. They cre­ated the coaster cars out of blocks of foam, which are carved and shaved, then placed into a vac­uum for­mer that heats up a sheet of plas­tic.

Cal­lista Weigel, 13, stood on a stool and placed her team’s blue coaster car at the top of the track. It was a suc­cess — all three of their “peo­ple” re­mained in the car. Per­fect­ing the re­straints was the tough­est part of the task, said 14-year-old Alice Wang, Cal­lista’s team­mate along with Natalie Ku­lak, 13. They criss­crossed the rub­ber bands over the ball bear­ings and tied them un­derneath, and also built in­den­ta­tions into the de­sign to keep them in place. “It was in­ter­est­ing. I never had the op­por­tu­nity to work with K’Nex be­fore,” Natalie said.” I can ap­pre­ci­ate how much work it takes to cre­ate a car like this. If we had to de­sign the track too, it would be ridicu­lously hard.” All three said they prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to ride the roller coaster if it was a real ride – much of the track is up­side down. “I feel like I’d die if I rode it,” Cal­lista said.

Af­ter ad­just­ing his team’s car, Matthew ran it through the track again. This time, none of the rid­ers fell out.

“Yes!” he said, rais­ing his hands. “None of them fell out. I’m so happy.”

This year the roller coaster les­son is in the beta test stage. Next school year, Holl­stein plans to of­fer the les­son to ninth-graders and tweak it a lit­tle to fo­cus more Rn WKH VFLHnWL­fiF DVSHFWV, DnG he’d also like them to use ele­ments of com­puter-aided de­sign. In the fu­ture, he’d like to es­tab­lish a rank­ing sys­tem to keep track of the best de­signs year-by-year.

He’d also like to con­sider the risks the stu­dents take in their de­sign ap­proach. For ex­am­ple, us­ing three ball bear­ings would be riskier than us­ing two, be­cause there is a greater chance of one fall­ing out.

Hav­ing stu­dents do this type of hands-on work, ap­ply­ing knowl­edge through an un­der­stand­ing of sci­en­tific con­cepts, falls in line with the Key­stone Ex­ams, which th­ese stu­dents will take in high school.

The Key­stones test stu­dents’ depth of knowl­edge and cog­ni­tive com­plex­ity rather than ask­ing ques­tions with fact-based an­swers that can be mem­o­rized.

“It’s not the an­swer, but how do you get to the an­swer?” Holl­stein said. “This class is so great be­cause we get to show them the thought process.”

Pho­tos by GE­OFF PAT­TON

Eighth-grader Andy Ga­gen places a car in start po­si­tion as teacher An­drew Holl­stein makes a last-sec­ond ad­just­ment to the coaster track in the ex­plor­ing tech­nol­ogy class at Pennbrook Mid­dle School April 29.

Eighth-grade stu­dent Natalie Ku­lak uses a screw­driver for fi­nal assem­bly of a roller coaster car she helped de­sign in the ex­plor­ing tech­nol­ogy class at Pennbrook Mid­dle School April 29.

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