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Fast times at Lake Oswego High

Teachers bring physics lessons to life with acceleration demonstrations
by: Vern Uyetake Ryan Stadnik accelerates on a bike while LOPD Sgt. Tom Hamann clocks his maximum speed.

Lake Oswego High School physics students had a unique learning experience last week that involve some unusual teaching tools. The tools included a squad car from the Lake Oswego Police Department, a radar gun, various sized bikes and scooters, stopwatches and of course, a pencil with a good eraser.

Students in the six sections of physics taught at the school were learning about acceleration. Teachers Jennifer Brazier and Tom Smith decided a demonstration just might be the right tool to help the students grasp the concept.

'We will do several trials where we measure the students undergoing a variety of accelerations - students running, students on skateboards and mini-bikes, students on bikes,' said Brazier. It was planned that Sgt. Tom Hamann of the Lake Oswego Police Department would use his radar gun to register the students' final velocity so that they could measure acceleration.

The students measured out a 10-meter path along which the 'objects' would travel, via running, skateboarding, riding a scooter, mini bikes, bikes or finally, in the LOPD squad car. Students used a handheld HotWheels® speed gun while Hamann used an official radar gun to record the objects' speeds in miles per hour.

'These things are used to tracking large, heavy metal objects,' said Hamann, when it was apparent that the smaller, non-metal human objects weren't registering on his radar gun.

With a rousing 'ready, set, go!' the objects started from their initial velocity of zero and ran, scootered and biked the 10 meters, while other students used stopwatches to determine the time they took to cross the finish line and radar guns to determine the final velocity of each object.

There was no shortage of volunteers to climb into the squad car for the vehicular segment of the trials. With a full carload of enthusiastic students, Hamann drove the squad car from a standstill - zero velocity - and then sounded his horn when he reached 20 mph. The trial was repeated at 30 mph.

After every trial, students scribbled their findings onto a worksheet which would be used to solve equations back in the classroom.

'From a given amount of information, they can determine the unknown values,' said Smith.

Did the trial help explain the principles?

'It definitely made it clear for me,' said Nathan Vanderveer-Harris., adding that it helped to see in action what they talked about in class.

This is Brazier's first year with the district and the idea of the acceleration trials was one she shared with LOSD Superintendent Bill Korach during an interview this summer. Her position became available when the district added two sections of an Engineering course, which Smith teaches at LOHS to students from both LOHS and Lakeridge.

Korach was instrumental in making the connection with LOPD Chief Don Johnson, who has emphasized that fostering strong connections with schools and kids is one of his priorities.