Monthly Archives - September 2009

Bad Movie Science: Stunt Car Exploration

Hollywood is famous for creating stunts that defy the laws of physics. One of the most talked about is the movie “Speed”. Could a fully loaded bus traveling at 50 mph (or faster) actually jump a 50 foot gap in a highway overpass? In this issue of CoolStuff you get a great classroom discussion topic and a download for a student activity allowing students to explore this classic Hollywood stunt.Here’s the 1994 movie trailer…


Watch the discussion about the science…



The Stunt Car Lab

Student Tested: This is fun!

Taking everyday events in your student’s lives and turning them into learning opportunities has always been a great way to get them moving down the path you choose as their teacher. Now you can take bad science from Hollywood and use it to make good scientists as your physics students test Hollywood suspense.

Download teacher’s guide & worksheets.


The Stunt Car Challenge was developed in collaboration with the CNS Institute for Physics Teachers (CIPT) at Cornell University.Create an exciting indoor projectile investigation with this complete lab, inspired by the movie Speed. Calculate the bus’s landing spot, and then test it! Friction pull-car travels at the same top speed, trial after trial, and the ramp adjust to three angles (10, 20, and 30 degrees). Complete lessons, originally developed by teachers at Cornell University, are included. Suitable for high school or introductory college courses. Kit includes six-foot flexible track, adjustable ramp, and friction pull-car.Engage, Explain, Explore, Expand and Evaluate…

Stunt Car Lab

In Stock SKU: P4-1340


SK8TR Goes Ballistic: Energy & Motion

Engaging students, grabbing their attention; any teacher would agree that’s the key to getting students excited about science, and maybe even remembering a little of what they learned. In this issue of CoolStuff we connect complete cool, with an important lesson on energy and motion. Extreme sports push the limits of what is humanly possible, but really big stunts take more than athleticism and guts. Really big stunts require science!

Watch the video..

Consider which factors were important to consider when designing the Mega-ramp that professional skateboarder, Danny Way, used to launch himself over the Great Wall Of China!

  • How high of a ramp do we need to reach a specific speed?
  • Does the downhill ramp angle affect the launch speed?
  • What are the best/worst angles for the launching surface?
  • Does the skater’s mass matter in this stunt?
  • How far would that energy carry me?

Sharing this video with your students can transform “Too Cool for School” classroom personalities into stakeholders in a scientific debate!

The Energy & Motion Lab Student Tested: This is fun!

The Introductory Energy and Motion Lab, with self-contained photogate speed timer, enables students to adjust the ramp angle, and starting height to quickly test their assertions about which variables are important to the ramp’s design. Students can explore velocity, acceleration, conservation of energy, and the relative importance of friction and more.

Introductory Energy & Motion Lab

Our teacher-developed product guide includes velocity and acceleration labs to photocopy for student use. Students collect precise velocity measurements, calculate averages, and demonstrate that, although the car’s acceleration increases with the ramp angle, the final speed only depends on the starting height.

This lab measures velocity using a battery powered photogate that is ready for use in one step. A pair of photogates are actually integrated into this little timer to measure the speed, from zero to 100 km/h, of any object that passes through. You can also use this BeeSpi V Advanced Self-Contained Photogate to measure free fall speeds and projectile velocities. Teacher guides and reproducible student worksheets are included.

Engage, Explain, Explore, Expand and Evaluate…


In Stock SKU: P4-1490

Putting Scale in Perspective

Recently during the 2009 AAPT Summer  Meeting in Ann Arbor, we had the chance to talk with CoolStuff Contributor Joe Spaccavento. As always, Joe had another great idea for us. This time on how to introduce the concept of scale and distance to students in a very memorable way. In his unassuming way, Joe shared a great idea he got direct from NASA, all the while pulling an un-inflated beach ball replicating the Earth from his jacket pocket. Between breaths trying to quickly inflate the Earth, Joe started with his questions…

Joe Spaccavento, Physics Teacher
North Arlington High School, New Jersey

Inflatable Earth: Great tool when discussing scale! With respect to this globe, how far is 200 miles? Well, look here (pointing to the globe) New York City to Boston is about 200 miles. With respect to this globe, that’s about this far. (Holding up his thumb and fore finger barely apart.) Then he asked, “How far out does the Space Shuttle orbit?” Answers are offered all around; 230 miles, 200 miles, 180 miles… Well, it’s about 200 miles. The holding up the Earth Ball, he points out that the shuttle would be in orbit around the Earth about here… (Again with his finger barely off the surface). Surprised faces all around.
Then he asked, “What about the orbit of a Geosynchronous Satellite?” Answer: about 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth! Again using the Earth model he explains that the Earth’s diameter at the Equator is roughly 7,926 miles. Our model here is about 1 ft in diameter. So let’s say 1 ft. = 7,926 miles. That’s the “scale” we’ll use.With that we can say that the Satellite is about 2.8 ft away from the surface of this model. None of us had any idea as to the scale of these distances until this simple demonstration made it perfectly clear. And on it went. How far to the Moon? The Sun?Joe went on to explain that the demo works so well, that he has started using multiple inflatable earths, set in a line to make it fun for the students as they become involved. This demonstration engages students and creates a lasting impression that won’t be forgotten. Joe has provided his spreadsheet of distance data and scale conversions in a free download for your use.


Download the Distances Spreadsheet
Our thanks to Joe Spaccavento for sharing this great idea, and for providing another tool that teaches in the CoolStuff Newsletter Archive.