Thursday, May 25, 2006

Going Ballistic

Dear Indigna,

I just learned that a teacher at a Mill Valley, CA high school has for years been teaching a lesson in which he shoots a rifle at a block of wood suspended from the ceiling in his classroom and has the students determine the velocity of the bullet from the motion of the block. He shoots a rifle loaded with live ammunition inside a classroom. Can you believe this?

Stunned Parent
Mill Valley, CA

Dear Stunned,

It truly is hard to believe how incredibly creative teachers can be! Finally, a class that helps students understand the real world application of their lessons. This sounds like a terrific experiment, especially for those students who need to learn the calculations necessary to determine a safe distance that will ensure they hit their target but still have time to get away when taking potshots at the neighbors. I understand this gifted educator also teaches a popular lesson meant to inspire future emergency room physicians, CSI technicians or disgruntled spouses in which small animals are stabbed various numbers of times in different ways and locations to determine the quickest death from the fewest wounds, involving calculations of blood volume, spurt force, and likelihood of getting fingered. In his honors classes, the senior project is to construct a functioning light saber from materials commonly found in the average suburban kitchen and successfully slay an evildoer.

Although apparently somebody has complained about the “ballistic pendulum” lesson, since the story is in the newspaper, the school’s Principal, Bob Holleran, noted that this experiment is “OK because of the educational value . . . students get a lot out of it. It's an interesting and dramatic example of physics in action." I couldn’t agree more. I can think of number of similar experiments we should introduce to teach students how to use chemistry, wood shop, even creative accounting to improve their recreational lives, get rid of annoying problems and inconvenient relatives, and boost their bank accounts.

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