Toys for ToPPS!
Toys for ToPPS!
(ToPPS Participants, that is)
I’ve been having fun with this institute even before it began. Visiting with the leaders about what kinds of activities we are going to be involved in each day, talking about products from vendors and even checkout conversations have been inspirational:
Me: “It’s for a week-long teacher institute for high school teachers, they each get a Nerf gun to help teach physics.”
Cashier: “That sounds like fun. But there’s not really physics in a Nerf gun, is there?”
Of all the nerve…Of course there’s physics in a Nerf gun! (There’s physics in everything!!) This unsuspecting cashier obviously was not thinking like a physicist and was not prepared for a summer lesson while on the clock. Unfortunately, my informal research over the Nerf gun revealed he is not alone in his assumption this toy has little educational value. Of all the reviews on Amazon.com for this toy, most rated the educational value low. In fact, of the 222 reviews posted as of July 5 (2011), 192 reviewers rated the educational value. 62 of these individuals rated the educational value at only one star:
A combined total of only 39 rated the educational value at either 4 or 5 stars. The overall average number of stars for the educational value was 2.5. It’s all true. My wife watched as I tallied the ratings and typed this post. She didn’t understand why I was so interested in such matters, but she is my witness. Regardless, it’s obvious. We physics teachers have got to do a better job!:
When you “lock and load,” you are increasing the potential energy of the system (by decreasing the chemical potential energy of your body).
When the trigger is pulled after loading, the elastic potential energy of the spring immediately begins transferring into mechanical energy of the dart via a contact interaction where equal and opposite forces are acting on the dart and the plunger (ok, it’s an “air” plunger).
As this constant force is applied to the dart, it accelerates through the length of the barrel untill the contact interaction ceases.
Once the contact interaction ceases, the dart is in free fall toward the earth. The x-component of its velocity remains constant, while it accelerates downward in free fall in the y-direction.
Knowing the angle of the launch and the initial velocity, the dart’s landing position is all but predetermined using kinematics.
Getting back to the point, it turns out that many run-of-the-mill toys are great tools for investigating basic topics in physics. Two other toys participants will receive include Tumble Buggies and Pull Back Cars. These are great for studying constant velocity and acceleration, respectively.
The purpose of these fun takeaways for participants is not just to be used as demonstrations. They are intended to demonstrate the kinds of simple toys students can use to generate data. As is the case in science, from analyses of data comes a deeper understanding of the concepts. The means of collecting data does not have to be sophisticated. Just about any ordinary object can turn into fodder for physics data collection . . . So if you happen to hear of a science institute where a bunch of teachers were playing with toys, don’t worry–it really is for the betterment of physics education!