Building a more powerful mousetrap

Physics Vehicle Day at a Redwood City charter high drew a visit from California Superintendent Jack O’Connell. He was impressed by junior Nik Roman’s leaf-blower-powered balsa hovercraft. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Powered by mousetraps and rolling on wheels of compact discs, homemade vehicles careened across the blacktop at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City on Thursday, demonstrating the basic laws of physics and an educational success story.

Vehicles designed by the 92 members of the junior class accelerated, braked, cornered and jumped, showing their designers’ mastery of California’s curriculum for physics.

All of Summit’s first graduating class is off to college; two thirds will be the first in their families to go to college.

The school has 361 students and a wait list of 200.

Go to the story and click on the video to see mouse-trap-powered cars, a boat and the hovercraft.

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  1. > Vehicles designed by the 92 members of the junior class
    > accelerated, braked, cornered and jumped, showing
    > their designers’ mastery of California’s curriculum for physics

    the remarkable message behind that “92” number is that 92 is all of the junior class: all students from all backgrounds take AP Physics — as they do AP Math, English, History and Spanish.

  2. Summit is a dreadful school. I tutor several students who go there and the instruction is entirely inadequate, touchy feely, and entirely rigor-free. Most of the kids I work with are wealthy kids from Menlo Park and Atherton, so it’s hardly a shock that they all go on to college. What’s irritating is that many of these kids get into schools because the teachers give As easily and, as there’s no competition, they are all in the top 10% of their senior class. So they choose to be medium-sized fish in a puddle, and that makes them look a lot better to UCLA than they should.

    The poorer kids are the ones that are slowing down the curriculum. As a result, they take 3 semesters to get through AP US history (while still getting full credit as if they’d mastered the same material in a year. Almost none of them take the test.

    The precalc class is a joke. They don’t have a book. They use handouts, and spend weeks on large projects that have no real value, a few weeks on math, and as a result I spend weeks taking kids through the basics of trig.

    As for the physics cars, the teacher specifically told them not to bother with any calculations. There is absolutely no connection between those cars and physics instructions. They’re just cool cars.

    Did I mention I really despise that school? It’s just a fraud.

    Rant over.

  3. Summit is a 10 on the Academic Performance Index; I think they’re a 9 compared to schools with similar demographics. They must be doing something right.

  4. They start with bright kids who don’t want the hard work of a typical suburban public school in the South Bay, add in as few low income kids as they can get away with. Their test scores are great because of the bright kids. Their education is truly abysmal. It always amazes me you talk them up, since they represent all the touchy feely substitute political correctness for learning approach that you usually dislike.

  5. Our middle school students due these exact same things in 7th and 8th grade competitions, hardly anything that should be impressing Jack O’Connell.

    I have 2 hovercrafts in my room. I use them to introduce elementary students to Newton’s Laws. I’ve also posted the directions on how to build one on my blog. Anyone with a minimun of tools, an hour on their hands, and a vinyl shower curtain can make one.

    By the way, I doubt very seriously the kid had a balsa hovercraft. I’ve also built model airplanes out of balsa and they would not stand up to the forces generated by a leaf blower, much less having a kid sit on top of it.