Technology Grant Adds Momentum to Physics

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Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)

Thanks to a grant from Toshiba, students in Michael Stewart’s physics class at Unity Reed High School will have access to wireless, accurate, and easy-to-use technologies that will open new opportunities for learning about science, and physics in particular. Stewart teaches physics, chemistry, biology, and earth sciences at Unity Reed High. His Toshiba American Foundation award will provide $5,000 to upgrade the school’s physics lab with tools and equipment that will help create tangible, accessible, and engaging lessons on things such as energy, motion, and force.

Stewart is certain that having access to reliable technology will open doors for student invention, help bridge gaps in student understanding, and broaden the appeal of physics to commonly under-represented groups of students, including women and minorities. His aim is to change the image of physics as abstract, hard to understand, and unavailable to those who don’t fit the current scientific model.

He looks forward to incorporating inquiry-based, student-centered projects to his physics unit that let students be creative, test theories, and apply course concepts in new ways. By the end of October, Stewart anticipates delivery of 64 pounds of technology; equipment with names such as pully attachment, force plate, thermocouple, and encoder fan cart. Each item connects by Bluetooth to the student’s laptops.

“It’s literally a fan on a cart,” says Stewart, in explaining how the encoder fan cart works. “We can do things to impact what it does by changing speed, using weights that, depending how heavy, will change the momentum. We can impact friction by moving it across different surfaces. For a lesson in energy, I am having students build mouse trap cars, which harnesses the energy of a mouse trap to propel a student-made car. In subsequent units, such as rotational motion or rigid systems, students will adapt their cars to maximize some factor, such as acceleration or torque.”

With the equipment order submitted this week, Stewart organized a celebration that brought Superintendent of Schools Dr. LaTanya D. McDade, Principal Richard Nichols, and other science educators to his classroom, where they joined students in a ceremony and discussion about how setting career goals and focusing on your education will help you achieve big dreams. Stewart hopes to maximize the kinds of learning and leadership opportunities available to students. In a letter he wrote and read to them during the ceremony, he encouraged them to take all they can from this to expand their learning; to turn every challenge into an opportunity.

In her message of congratulations, Dr. McDade echoed his words. “This is a huge opportunity. It is an honor. I hope that you learn everything that you can, take everything away from this experience. I do not know where I would be today, had I not gotten the kind of education that prepared me to live out my own dreams and aspirations. I hope that you see in me the example of what you can do with an education in the future.”

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