Laws in motion

Baldi Middle School students enjoy an unusual lesson on Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

  • Jadon Whaeley helps demonstrate part of Newton’s first law. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • The FMA Live! show cast demonstrates Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion using dance, wrestling and a Velcro wall. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Not your average classroom: Kaiedm Webster (above) sticks to a Velcro wall during a performance at Baldi Middle School on Sept. 25. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

There were Vel­cro walls and gi­ant soc­cer balls in Baldi Middle School last week. There also was some ex­treme wrest­ling that was part of a lively and en­ter­tain­ing mul­ti­me­dia mu­sic­al show de­signed to kick up un­der­stand­ing of, and, per­haps, a keen­er in­terest in, sci­ence.

Baldi Middle School pu­pils sat in their darkened gym on Sept. 25 watch­ing three per­formers demon­strate Sir Isaac New­ton’s three laws of mo­tion us­ing some hip-hop and dance to com­ple­ment video of the 17th cen­tury sci­ent­ist and math­em­atician ex­plain­ing his ideas.

New­ton’s laws of mo­tion, which were spelled out in his 1687 book, Math­em­at­ic­al Prin­ciples of Nat­ur­al Philo­sophy, or Prin­cipia, furthered man­kind’s un­der­stand­ing of how the uni­verse works. The book is a mile­stone in the his­tory of sci­ence, and know­ledge of New­ton’s three laws is a fun­da­ment­al part of sci­ence edu­ca­tion.

Pro­found ideas. So where do Vel­cro, gi­ant soc­cer balls and ex­treme wrest­ling come in?

A wall made of Vel­cro, along with as­sist­ance from a couple of pu­pils, helped demon­strate part of New­ton’s first law, which can be boiled down to: Something that is mov­ing will keep mov­ing un­less something else stops it. Wrap a kid in Vel­cro and have him throw him­self at a Vel­cro wall, and he’ll just hang around for a while.

Ever-in­creas­ing sizes of soc­cer balls helped kids visu­al­ize the re­la­tion­ship between force and mass that’s laid out in New­ton’s second law. A reg­u­lar-sized soc­cer ball is pretty easy to boot in­to a net a foot or so away. Mul­tiply the ball’s mass, and the amount of force needed to move the ball changes, too.

Ex­treme, well, very ex­treme, wrest­ling helped the per­formers show Baldi’s pu­pils New­ton’s third law that every ac­tion has an equal and op­pos­ite re­ac­tion. You’d prob­ably have to ap­pre­ci­ate slap­stick to en­joy watch­ing a couple of teach­ers clothed in gi­ant pad­ded suits boun­cing off each oth­er in the third law demon­stra­tion, but what sev­enth-grader wouldn’t?

“‘The Baldi stu­dents ate it up!” said Am­brose Liu, Arts­Rising co­ordin­at­or for the Phil­adelphia Edu­ca­tion Fund. “The act­ors/dan­cers and the mu­sic with the mul­ti­me­dia video and in­ter­act­ive and laugh-in­du­cing sci­ence demon­stra­tions made the sub­ject mat­ter very palp­able to the audi­ence.”

The Ed Fund brought the pro­gram to Baldi, Liu said.

The Hon­ey­well Ho­met­own Solu­tion’s FMA Live! show was cre­ated by Hon­ey­well and NASA in 2004 to get middle-school pu­pils in­ter­ested in sci­ence by mak­ing sci­ence en­ter­tain­ing to them. There’s a need to fire up that in­terest, ac­cord­ing to a Hon­ey­well press re­lease, be­cause too few stu­dents have the math and sci­ence skills to com­pete for jobs in the 21st cen­tury.

“We at the Ed Fund were just thrilled to be able to in­vite FMA Live to Phil­adelphia and help co­ordin­ate lo­gist­ics on be­half of the schools,” Liu said. “Oth­er­wise, it wouldn’t have happened giv­en the staff­ing chal­lenges that the schools are fa­cing.”

The per­form­ance at Baldi was the only one in the North­east.

And, “FMA” is drawn from New­ton’s second law: Force = Mass x Ac­cel­er­a­tion. But all the good sci­ence stu­dents prob­ably guessed that. ••

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