Physics lesson gives Herberg students taste for car design


Photo Gallery: Pasta Pod Races

PITTSFIELD -- Macaroni necklaces are out. "Pasta pods" are in.

Seventh-grade science students at Herberg Middle School have embraced the challenge to create race cars out of pasta, wooden skewers and hot glue in the name of physics, and perhaps a little classroom competition.

The project has been presented at state and national STEM educators' conferences, and its development is credited to Julie Angle, an assistant professor and science education coordinator for the School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership at Oklahoma State University. The project looks at the physics behind the motion of stock cars and applies them to a model scale, using inexpensive materials.

"I tell the kids that instead of real cars and tracks, we'll use pasta and ramps that I've built to see how it works," said Herberg seventh-grade science teacher Ellen Lantz, who co-teaches the project with colleague Rob Geller. They wear NASCAR T-shirts for the occasion.

They've also presented the project, with Angle's permission, at a state science educators conference.

Recently in the Herberg classrooms, students drafted designs on graph paper, wrote out their theories on how their designs would demonstrate velocity, and then, with safety goggles, glue and noodles, began building their pasta pods.

"It helps you learn in a fun way, instead of just taking notes," said seventh-grader Zack Zerbato, who worked with Hunter Potash in Lantz's class to create a triangle-shaped nose for their pasta-filled racer they called "The Bird."

Next door, Ava Bressette held up a rectangular vehicle with three wheel-and-axle sets. She and group mates Perla Rojas and Haily Sumner painted it light lavender and called it "The Bug."

"If we have time, can I BeDazzle it," she asked Geller, meaning she wanted to use a BeDazzler machine to add plastic gems to it.

"It gives you more a chance to show your creativity," Rojas said.

"It also keeps kids engaged," Bressette said.

"They should have [these kinds of projects] more often," Sumner said.

Lantz and Geller said they try to teach science using multiple avenues. On one hand, said Geller, students will have to write a multi-page lab report, complete with a cover; keep a data table of all the trial runs conducted in class; create a bar graph of results and a summary of findings. They also watch YouTube videos on Newton's three laws of motion.

"I'm a visual learner, and I tell the students that from the get-go," said Lantz, noting how most students can't absorb concepts by rote alone.

Next week, the top three teams from each classroom whose pasta pods traveled the farthest will compete against each others. Winners will get a surprise prize, and all sealed, leftover pasta will be donated to a local food pantry.


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