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Grant Dollars Bring Physics to Life with New Tech in FHS Classroom

FHS Math and Physics teacher Tim Cerniglia discusses a physics experiment with students during a classroom assignment Sept 16 In a Falcon High School classroom fall semester, students are doing the work of Galileo with a modern spin. 


“The idea is to slow gravity down,” explained FHS Math teacher Tim Cerniglia. In his work, rather than dropping an object, Galileo used a bronzed ball and polished track on set on an angle to measure acceleration related to gravity. 


FHS students are performing a similar experiment 400 years later in Cerniglia’s Physics 1 class with some updated technology. Using a $5,000 grant awarded by Century Link, Cerniglia purchased three Air Track devices to add practical application to his students' coursework. 


“When we measure it down we exclude the whole friction factor,” said FHS Junior Jackson Sackuvich as he described the assignment. 


A single Air Track includes a pump that softly puffs air along a measuring track allowing a playing-card sized “car” to glide from one end to the other on a friction-free surface. The Century Link grant also covered the cost of photogate sensors which shine beams on the track and capture the speed of the car while recording the data into a small computer called a LabQuest device. 


“I think that’s really cool,” commented Ben Ramirez, Jackson’s classmate. “It’s a lot easier than having to quickly time something as it drops from a building or something, so you can get a lot more precise measurements.” 


Cerniglia can use the Air Tracks for multiple assignments throughout the school year to demonstrate a wide variety of physical principles from Newton's laws of motion to conservation of energy. A future assignment will involve rolling Matchbox cars down the Air Track.


“You can measure the efficiency of the car, which is what Ford [Motor Company] does in the wind tunnel,” Cerniglia added. “So they’re getting a scaled down student version of what you can see out in big science and big industry around the world. It’s been an amazing endowment.” 


Although the goal is to reach correct solutions, Cerniglia expects his students to work together through challenges along the way. 


“It’s science,” he said. “If you're not messing up,something is wrong. Going through that process you feel frustrated, and then we get clear and it works--  Then we’re actually making some science here, and that’s what we’re doing in class.” 

FHS Junior Genevieve Alpar measures the height of the track in a physics assignment   FHS students are performing an experiment similar to one Galileo attempted 400 years ago in Tim Cerniglia’s Physics 1 class  FHS Juniors James Starner, Jackson Sakuvich and Ben Ramirez (left to right) work out calculations in physics 1

David Nancarrow