Physics Club for Life

That’s what Vedant wrote when we asked him for feedback. “Physics Club for Life“. We collected feedback from the children because that’s what this is all about. If you can’t create an environment where children want to come every week and have fun learning, then nothing else matters.

So glad to see how much they are enjoying science, working in teams and building real things.

Samit feels it just “rocket science” and “fun”. That’s the thing about children. Everything can be fun and easy. For most of us “rocket science” is scary and hard 🙂

All kids love building things and making them fly.

Glad to see Sreyas enjoying that they are working in teams. Life skills !!

Many kids like Sruthi will see the power of learning in teams. Aakanksha is appreciating how hard it is to get the process right !!

Janvi is letting her imagination fly high, feeling it’s a real launch mission !!

Mission to MARS @ Sherwood High

Over the last 6 sessions we embarked on a mission to Mars with all our children in Sherwood High. Using that mission as a background we explored a variety of ideas and problems as a team.

Interesting videos provided a window into the world of rocket scientists at NASA and JPL. Tricky problems stretched our minds and made us dig deeper into counter-intuitive concepts of physics. We built a foam rocket as teams of three and ran various experiments to understand the impact of angle of launch on the distance of travel.

Critical thinking. Exploring theory. Imagination. Building mechanisms. Running experiments. Above all having FUN !!

Checkout highlights of what we did below !!

Have you seen how NASA rovers landed and navigate the MARS terrain?
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Did you know why one can’t just travel as the crow flies to get to MARS?

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Can you imagine the innumerable challenges of living on MARS and how we can adopt to it?

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50 KM to escape Earth’s orbit, 50 M KM to get to MARS orbit and another 50 KM to land. Can you guess the proportion of fuel consumption?
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Nothing beats the joy of seeing your rocket fly.
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Science and fun are intertwined. Let’s run experiments to figure out the optimal angle
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Many experiments with our rockets to understand the concept of projectile motion

Worksheets to tie all learning together formally
Learning the scientific rigor of measurement and hypothesis testing

Hello Sherwood High !!

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At this busy beautiful school, located at the Nice Road exit which seems to match the busy-ness of all the children inside, we are launching a year long experiential learning program for science.

Special thanks to the vision and guidance of Mrs. Agnes to build a program like this at Sherwood High.

The goal is to infuse love of physics thru solving real life challenges. While that is the goal, the journey will include a lot of life skills including problem framing, research, collaboration in a team , story telling and most importantly craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship is sorely missing on the roads and junctions all around the school (and in most public places in India). Designing and building things with your own hands is critical if we ever want to have real engineers, scientists or product managers out of India.

A few key facts:

  • Part of the timetable as a ‘hobby club’, so no after school pickup/drop
  • Once a week
  • Expect ~30-34 sessions in this year (accounting for holidays, exams, cancellations etc.)
  • Aim to complete at least one big project, 2 small projects, 2 workshops and key parts of one series of APS Spectra thru the sessions this year
  • All work happens in the class as teams, but expect assignments for research, reading and viewing

Dispensing candy

Who says programming should be scary and full of syntax?

We are learning thinking like a programmer through various designs for a candy dispenser.

Look at the creativity and fun associated. Without realizing children are building algorithms, IF ELSE blocks and handling boundary conditions.

We will soon graduate into demonstrating Newton’s laws using Python.

Learning using programming, than learning programming.

Building bridges, pulleys and catapults

As we wrap up the first phase of this semester, children are rapidly finishing up their projects. The creativity and persistence being displayed by everyone is so infectious.

We should see videos from each child next week, but here is a sneak peak.

Some of the designs …

Look at the craftsmanship of this catapult …

… the creativity …

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and the struggles …

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Don’t get fooled by how simple this looks, it shoots like crazy …

French call it Bricolage … we call it Jugaad … I call it brilliant. A wonderful way to demonstrate the pulley mechanism … sewing machine anyone?

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Complex contraptions that are still evolving as we build them …

 

Simple but no simpler way to build a catapult out of pencils …

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Some awesome bridges that go above and beyond the original design … unstoppable creativity

Can’t wait to see all the projects being finished soon … and post the videos online.

 

Shooting the monkey and floating the watermelon

Today was probably super high on fun and learning quotient.

The idea was to continue exploration of Newton’s laws and the concepts of weight / weightlessness. People often confuse weight and mass. Mass is not easily changeable. It’s more real. Weight is experienced. That was the theme of the initial discussion.

We talked about why weight is felt due to the ‘Normal force’ acting on us. So if the Normal force doesn’t exist, weight cannot be felt. That’s what happens in free fall. If the elevator is in free fall you feel weightless.

This is what happens with astronauts in space. They ‘feel’ weightless.

A rising elevator makes you ‘feel’ heavier. A falling elevator makes you ‘feel’ lighter.

We talked about the science behind simulating weightlessness on earth. In fact I could show it in the living room by jumping off the chair with a watermelon in my hand … and using the slow motion camera on my phone.

Then came the crown jewel of our program. The shooting monkey experiment.

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That’s me dressed up as a hunter !!

It’s a sad story of a monkey being shot by a hunter. The monkey (Fred) is hanging by the branch.

The hunter aims perfectly to shoot the monkey. All should go as per plan and sadly the monkey should get shot.

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The monkey is smart. It let’s go as soon as it sees the flare of the gun.

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The hunter is smarter. He expects the monkey to let go and decides to adjust for the falling monkey. He has three choices.

(A) Leave it as it is (B) Lift it up even more (C) Lower the gun to catch it falling

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What would you recommend?

We built an interesting mechanism to demonstrate this phenomenon (Built by our intern Kautilya and my two sons). We had so much fun.

From next week we will be starting the journey of building our projects.

Our inspiration is the Classical Mechanics lecture by Walter Lewins. (Watch from 35:03). Hats off to the master.

Does Beckham defy Newton’s laws?

Many think David Backham is GOD on the football field. So can he defy laws of physics too?

We talked earlier that Newton’s law states an object has a tendency (inertia) to stay on a straight path with constant velocity, unless an external force changes it’s direction and/or speed.

Yet, Beckham seems to some how get the ball to curve and change direction on it’s own.

He is not the only one. There are many others who can do insane curve kicks.

We were all surprised and debated it.

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Is it the wind said one kid. But, that can’t explain it all because they are able to do it at will.

Is it spinning? Yes it is but, that doesn’t explain how it can move without touching the ground.

Will it work in vacuum asked another. Brilliant question. The answer is know.

Here is the explanation. Magnus Effect. (By the way, this is how the reverse swing is generated by many in cricket)

We talked about the science behind the London Tower bridge. How are they able to lift the ~1,000 Tonne section without applying so much force?

There is no space for a lever. They didn’t just use pulleys and hydraulic mechanism. They used a very simple principle of balancing weights, just like the counter weight in an elevator. Check this for more details.

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We then debated what weight really is about.

If it just about mass and gravity, would it ever change when you weight yourself in the same place? What if you are moving in an elevator. Does the scale read differently? Why? Neither gravity or your mass changed. Yet the weight changes.

(If it was that simple, why do we need to pay for weight loss or gain. Just travel in an elevator.

Why do astronauts feel weightless in space? The answer I got was “there is no gravity in space”.  That is a common mis-perception.

Gravity of earth is felt quite strongly where the space station orbits. The acceleration (g) will be reduced by just 15% !!

If the space station orbits at an altitude of approximately 400 km above the Earth’s surface, then the value of g at that location will be reduced from 9.8 m/s/s (at Earth’s surface) to approximately 8.7 m/s/s. This would cause an astronaut weighing 1000 N at Earth’s surface to be reduced in weight to approximately 890 N when in orbit. While this is certainly a reduction in weight, it does not account for the absolutely weightless sensations that astronauts experience.  Source: PhysicsClassroom.com

We left these open.

Discussion for next week. We will be talking a lot about weights and weightlessness.

Turn right to go left. Makes perfect sense

 

Doc Hudson: I’ll put it simple: if you’re going hard enough left, you’ll find yourself turning right.
Lightning McQueen: Oh, right. That makes perfect sense. Turn right to go left. Yes, thank you! Or should I say No, thank you, because in Opposite World, maybe that really means thank you.

In the famous movie Cars there is a scene about Hudson Hornet teaching McQueen how to race on a dirt track. Our session today was about exploring the science of turning corners and why this works in some cases.

Here are the scenes we watched.

McQueen failing to make the turn …

Hudson Hornet explaining what he needs to do and then showing it …

We started with the basics. A rotating object will have a tendency to continue in the same path.

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This is the implication of Newton’s 1st law. Path of inertia.

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Yes we can still turn a sharp corner while riding a car or a skateboard. Thanks to friction in our wheels. But, if there the corner is too sharp, we usually have banking to increase the friction.

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In this case the dirt road doesn’t offer enough friction and there is no banking. So the car will tend to drift and spin.

The rear wheels will over rotate causing the car to spin. Happens when you turn on ice too. To compensate you need to turn the front wheels away from that spin and also ensure the back wheels are horizontal offering maximum friction. You steer into the turn.

Counter intuitive.

You can see this in many car racing movies.