Calculating the Splat Factor: Physics Olympics, November 19

Calculating the Splat Factor: Physics Olympics, November 19

Posted: November 17, 2011

Some physicists will tell you that the study of physics is beautiful, or that physics is the key to understanding the universe in which we find ourselves living. Sometimes, though, physics is just plain fun.

Fun will be first and foremost on Saturday, November 19, at Buffalo State when the Physics Department and the Western New York Physics Teachers’ Alliance (WNYPTA) host the sixth annual Physics Olympics.

About 200 middle- and high-school students from 15 area schools will compete as teams in three events: egg bungee jumping, bridge-building, and guess-the-distance.

“The point of this,” said Dan MacIsaac, associate professor of physics, “is partly to teach, of course. But it’s also to show the students that there is a scientific community that they can join. We want to encourage students who are taking physics and science courses.”

David Henry, associate professor of elementary education and reading, teaches methods of teaching science and mathematics to Buffalo State education majors. He, like MacIsaac, is a proponent of developing scientific literacy among students in grades K through 12 by using classroom activities and other methods that are alternatives to a lecture-based class.

“We know this works,” said Henry. “Students learn about science and scientific thinking this way.” Teachers who participate in the WNYPTA learn and develop additional ways to bring science to life in their classrooms.

After the events are over on Saturday, participants enjoy a pizza party while waiting for the winners to be announced. “The competition is lighthearted,” said MacIsaac, “but there is an unmistakable satisfaction for the team whose egg doesn’t go splat.”

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