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Snow Day 4: whirlygigs

January 13, 2011

So, fresh off today’s foray into online classes, I started to wonder how I might be able to conduct a lab online. Yes, school was canceled for a fourth day in a row. I acutally had a student write me today saying she couldn’t wait to try out a new note taking technique—things are starting to get serious here in the ATL.

This got me thinking, and wanting to find a fun, scientific project we could do together with minimal time and supply requirements. I remembered a wonderful activity Tyler Rice did with whirlygigs to kick off his classes. This is why I love blogging and find it to be a net time saver. I didn’t have to write up a whole lab, or spend hours searching through paper lab manuals. I remembered Tyler’s cool idea, googled it, and was ready to go in five minutes. Hopefully, one of my blog posts does the same for someone else.

Here’s the challenge I just sent out:

Hi All,
Thanks to those of you that turned out to learn more about the physics of cold today. I had a great time, and you should feel free to check the video/discussion out own your own if you’re curious about how we came to invent air conditioning, refrigeration, or cool atoms to within millionths of a degree of absolute zero.

In the hopes of giving you a chance to explore another set of ideas that you might find interesting, I thought today, we might try a little home experiment, with a technological twist. Let’s learn to build a whirlygig.

Don’t know what a whirlygig is? Check out this simple, easy to follow diagram:

All you need is a sheet of plain paper and some scissors, and you’ll be off exploring.

Once you’ve build your whirlygig, my question is, “What can you do with this?”

How can you design a whirlygig to stay up in the air for the longest possible time?

How can you explain this system with physics? What models are appropriate? Graphs? Diagrams?

If you’re interested in exploring this, I’m going to post a few more directions on the blog, and ask that you post your discusison/questions/thoughts there.

Also, when you think you’ve got a record whirlygig, film its fall, upload it to youtube, and share the link with the blog.

Finally, after spending part of the day testing these things out, we’ll see just how well you understand them. At 4pm tomorrow, I’ll issue a challenge, asking you to make (and film) a whirly gig that lands on the ground in a specific time (eg. 2.5±0.1s). You can do all the calculations you want to make this prediction, but you can only drop your whirlygig once. Film it and upload it to youtube to show your mastery.

So who’s game?

Here’s a video I put together to show this project to my students as well. Again, total time to put all this together (email+video+blog post) < 30 minutes.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 8:21 am

    Love this! Cannot wait to tune in later for student results.

  2. January 13, 2011 10:08 am

    What has been the response from students to your online experiment? I like the idea of extending the learning into the home (homework) when students have time on their hands. Inquiry! Pose a question, a problem to solve, and engage their minds. Will they respond is the question? Who will respond will be interesting?

    Have you collected any responses yet?


    • January 13, 2011 10:40 am

      None yet, I just posted this very late last night. Hopefully my kids will be flooding youtube’s servers with whirlygig data soon.

      I wrote a post about yesterday’s discussion of the “Conquest of Cold” video. Got 2 student participants, which I’ve decided is not bad.

  3. January 13, 2011 12:42 pm

    I love the extension to home, and to use YouTube and their blogs to share their results. Perhaps Mom and Dad will be involved in the videos!

    Any parent/student concerns about YouTube, however?

    Can’t wait to see the results!

    • January 13, 2011 12:46 pm

      This assignment is totally optional, so at the moment, I’ll be stunned if I get one submission. My bar for declaring victory here is as low as it can be.

      Kids have put stuff up on youtube in the past, with no real feedback/concern. What sort of concerns do you get when the issue comes up?

      • January 13, 2011 1:34 pm

        I thought there might be typical internet privacy/safety concerns because student’s face might be in the video and students need to have a YouTube account. I understand that many students are posting their own videos and/or have those accounts anyway, whether their parents know it or not.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think this presents itself as a great way to model responsible online behavior. I just wondered if there was any pushback from parents or kids.

        I also think there might be a double standard about issues like this. For example, the local paper frequently features stories and/or photos of students doing athletics, art, etc. Those same stories and pictures are also in the online edition, but I haven’t heard anyone complain to the paper about their child’s name and face being on the internet in the online edition. Yet they might complain about posting class photos on a blog or videos of student work on YouTube.

        • January 13, 2011 1:56 pm

          I can understand those concerns, but I’m honestly not expecting that many kids to post (I’d be surprised if one kid did), and if they wanted to post a video they could always do it in a way, as I did that they are not on camera. But think this is another place where I’d like for schools to do a better job with parent education. The harms of your kid posting physics videos on the internet are hard to conceive, while the harms of the videos they might be surreptitiously posting of one another on facebook for fun that can quickly become harassment.

          This also reminds me I need to keep working on my post of students taking control of their online identities and how that pertains to college admissions. How come my number of draft posts increases over the 4 day snow holiday (now 17 posts) rather than decreases?

  4. January 18, 2011 8:47 am


    Curious…did you have any takers?

    • January 18, 2011 9:06 am

      No, unfortunately. I’m not sure why. I certainly didn’t go all out to market it, but it might also be that asking students to do something, rather than just watch something, was too high of a barrier for entry on a holiday.

      • January 18, 2011 2:04 pm

        Could be their previous habituation to what happens about school on a snow day. We really have not front-loaded a different expectation of them institutionally. I appreciate that you tried!

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