Ron Bowerman at St Wendelin High School, Fostoria, Ohio, knows how to motivate students: competition. In his physics class, students compete for a high stakes simulated contract with an airline. Physics and engineering skills are put to the test as students work in engineering teams that try to design the lightest and strongest wing spar for an airplane.
Bowerman’s students use a Vernier Force Plate to stress test each spar. The real-time graphs help build the competition’s tension in the room as each group’s test results are displayed for everyone, while more and more stress is applied until each spar breaks.
Mr. Bowerman explains Boeing aircraft wings must hold five times the weight of the airplane. For the assignment, students assume their model airplane weighs one kilogram, so spars that hold the equivalent of five kilograms or more receive an “A.”
(Boeing’s target for the 777 was that the wing should be able to withstand up to 150% greater force than realistically would ever be exerted on it and, to put this into start perspective, this entails an astounding wing deflection of over 24 feet.)
Several of his students were quoted in a school newspaper story about the project, saying things like “Physics is a lot easier to understand if you visualize the concepts” and “It’s better than learning out of a book.”