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How To Get High-Schoolers Involved In Real Science? 314

Wellington Grey writes "I'm a physics teacher and have been wondering what ways it's possible to get students to participate in or donate to real science projects. I encourage my students to help out with things like Galaxy Zoo (which has just released a new version) and to get them to install BOINC on their personal computers. Do Slashdotters out there have any other suggestions that would be appropriate for the 11-18 age range? Extra credit if you can think of a way that I can track their progress so that I can give them extra credit."
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How To Get High-Schoolers Involved In Real Science?

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  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:01PM (#27247539) Homepage Journal

    I think the answer has something to do with a Poser model, a government mainframe, and a freak electrical storm...

  • by biocute ( 936687 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:01PM (#27247545) Homepage

    "I'm a high school student and my physics teacher always comes up with ideas to get us to participate in or donate to real science projects. He even encourages us to help out with things like Galaxy Zoo (which has just released a new version, grrrr, dreadful updates again) and even gets us to install BOINC on our PERSONAL computers. Do Slashdotters out there have any suggestions that would be appropriate to satisfy this 35-year-old physics teacher? Extra credit if you can think of a way that I can fake my progress so that I can get extra credit."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      There is a group called The INSPIRE Project ( that, among other things, makes kits specifically for high school students that enables them to listen to atmospheric phenomena. The kits, actually called VLF Receiver Kits, can be ordered either assembled or not yet assembled. If the kids are to be the ones to put the kits together, you have just tricked them into performing some very basic electrical engineering in addition to learning about what goes on in the Earth's atmosp
    • SETI has been running now for several years and has well into the hundred of thousands of years of cpu time. Since there have been no major announcements the only thing I can concluded is that they have found nothing at the places and time they looked. It seems to be the same for BOINC in that the only thing they have done is to prove a lot of molecules will not cure a given disease. If there is value in this why can't they get a sponsor such as Microsoft to offer free software. I do not mean to every o
    • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @07:51PM (#27249699)
      Dear HIGHSCHOOL STUDENT Sir/Madam,

      I am Mbutu Kiko Kiko, a 35 year old physics teacher. My lab director has recently organized a coup against the theoretical physics junta, and I need your ATM MACHINE CARD to protect $8,500,000 worth of funds converted in small pens and spiral notebooks...

  • I think the term you are looking for is citizen science [].
  • Slashdot says (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:04PM (#27247599)

    Take pictures of space!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      While this is modded funny and comes from an AC, I'd seriously put this out there as an option.

      Here's why:
      1) It's cheap.
      2) It requires little time.
      3) It requires little handywork - no time spent soldering minuscule circuitry or machining micrometer spec aluminum.
      4) It's results are almost immediate.
      5) It produces very cool data.
      6) It touches a lot of different areas: atmospheric physics, electronics, photography, telemetry. All of which can be understood by anybody who's been outside and played with some el

  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:05PM (#27247607) Homepage Journal

    You could have them monitor HF propagation beacons [] to track the effects of the new sunspot Solar Cycle on the ionosphere.

    You could have them do balloon launches [].

  • by hypergreatthing ( 254983 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:07PM (#27247633)

    Kelly LeBrock.

  • by casals ( 885017 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:10PM (#27247683)
    Have you tried to show them successful stories like this one []? High schoolers are more prone to do something that a) has good chances to success and b) has very good chances to make them look good. Show them enough successful projects like "hey, how cool is that, uh?", and you probably will be able to gather even the not-that-geeks.
    • There is an outreach "master class" scheme involving the LHC where your students can get their hands on data (simulated at the moment but real eventually!). While the tools are simplified compared to what we actually use for an analysis you do get to look at and study real data. You could try talking to CERN to find out if this is available in whatever part of the world you are. We also have a video conference scheme which I've taken part in before where someone from your local university will come and visi
  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:12PM (#27247713) Homepage Journal

    You want to get students interested in "real science", then as your examples you cite some computer programs? And they learn what from this?

    When I was in school, the best science was *always* some sort of physical demonstration. I still remember being in physics class where we calculated the speed that a ball ought to go down a ramp, fly through the air and hit a spot on some paper. I marked an "X", and sure enough, the ball landed on the X (within experimental error).

    I also remember being fascinated at my local science museum at a big box with pegs and a bell curve painted on the glass. Every few minutes balls would fall randomly through the pegs, yet fall into the bell curve. [of course, in recent years they got rid of all the cool stuff in favor of "corporate demonstrations" that totally suck, but that's another subject]

    Then there were the chemistry experiments... and field trips to the park... you get the idea.

    Make science real by making it something physical that students can see/touch/smell.

    • Re:Wait, what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:15PM (#27247757) Homepage Journal

      Oops, I misread his question. I thought he was asking for how to get students interested in science, when he was asking how to get students involved in *helping* science, apparently. Never mind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      My physics teacher (who was awesome) did an experiment where we hung a bowling ball from the ceiling, then he sat in a chair, pulled the bowling ball back to his face, and let it go. This was to prove that as it swung, the ball lost energy and would not hit him in the nose when it swung back. We videotaped it and though the bowling ball obeyed the laws of physics and did not hit him, the look on his face was priceless.

      Anyway, I think the computer-related stuff is alright, but I agree that physical stuff ha
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by snl2587 ( 1177409 )

        When I was in school my physics teacher did the same thing, but he made the mistake of pushing the ball a little.

        I heard the next year he used a chair to make the demonstration instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Facetious ( 710885 )
        One of the best physics demonstrations is to hang a block of wood from a string and shoot it with a .22, then measure how far the block swings. Sadly, this can't be done in schools anymore.
      • I think you are right. One of the few classes I vividly remember from college was chemistry. The guy did some extreme science. He let us stick our hands (very quickly) into liquid nitrogen and even poured it over his head. He'd also stick a piece of dry ice in his mouth and blow the smoke out. He loved explosions and at least 2 times a week he'd blow something up.

        I didn't care if I had the flu I dragged myself to his class because I never wanted to miss an explosion.

        Check out http://www.stevespanglersc []

      • by cptdondo ( 59460 )

        There's the bowling ball on a string. I like that one...

        The spinning chair: get someone to sit in a chair you can spin. Give her 2 dumbbells. She spins faster when she draws her arms in, slower when she extends them.

        The rifle: Hang a block on a long piece of string. It has to be a large-ish, heavy block of wood. Clamp a rifle into a firing bench, aim at block, pull trigger. Block goes flying up. You can measure the transfer of momentum by measuring how high the block went.

        Various exploding and noxio

    • High school science tends to be rather basic. Here is a way you can make F=ma really fun. You can buy model rocket kits in bulk for education from many vendors. I like the people at this site a lot: []

      Get a kit for each kid, or one for each team of two, and make them go home and build them. They can handle it. These kits are easy enough for a 4 year old with little testors and a little elmers. (I know because my son assembled one at that age (except for the parachute)) Th
    • by EEBaum ( 520514 )
      I remember the big box with pegs and a bell curve. One lived in L.A. for quite a few years. Last I saw, it (and the accompanying whole room's worth of other cool things) had moved to Seattle.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jank1887 ( 815982 )

      As an engineer, I can selfishly say that at that age you don't was to teach them science, you want to teach them engineering. You want them to take a small piece of science and do something physical and visual. Something they can touch. something they can make or change, and then see how they're changes affect it. But the key difference between that and a lab exercise, is that you have to let them play.

      Another suggestion, let them make things. I recommend checking out something like RepRap []. For $500 have

  • by LeafOnTheWind ( 1066228 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:13PM (#27247723)

    When I was in high school in my chem AP class, my teacher had set it up so that at the end of the year we all had to read a timely chemistry research paper that had been published in a major journal and prepare a presentation on it for the class. This may not be what you want to hear but from what I remember of my chem. AP curriculum, I was grossly underprepared to do any serious research. However, I definitely remember than dealing with both a research subject and the academic publishing style gave a lot of background for my future.

    That said, I'm computer science not chemistry, so I guess I don't know how that would have turned out in the long run. Even though I'm not chem, I know that the experience in reading real research papers definitely prepared me for graduate and research coursework in college more than anything else in my time in high school.

    That said, my minor is physics, so I do know a little bit about that as well. If you've done electromagnetism/electronics, I would encourage maybe giving your students an electronics project. It was nice to have a little practical lab after all that theory. An infinite field of one ohm resisters is one thing - rewiring your coffee maker with a job server is another (btw if any of your students actually manage to do this, send me an email). That said, many of your students (I was one) may really like theory and Maxwell's equations and vector calculus, so don't make the course too EE based.

  • by szo ( 7842 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:16PM (#27247767)

    How To Get High - Schoolers Involved In Real Science?

    • IQ pills would help. Wait, is there such a thing? Are Google and Wikipedia getting into pharmaceuticals?

  • by ewenix ( 702589 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:19PM (#27247805) Journal
    I know I've been out of school for a while, but I believe what you're looking for is called a SCIENCE FAIR.
    • by slapout ( 93640 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:33PM (#27248033)

      Nope. When I was in school, I liked science, but most kids hated doing science fair projects. I wanted to do projects that were interesting, like show how something worked. But the school imposed the rule that every project had to be based on the idea of answering some question.

      • That just means you didn't like the rules for that science fair.

        Besides your answers the question:"hey, how does this work?"~

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        Oh, that's easy. Always have the question be: "Why is this an interesting experiment?"

      • I'm with you. Science fairs are uselessly limited by the venue and students experiences, as well as the primarily solitary work. You need someone to come up with a group/team project which does something cool. These types of projects rarely prove some fundamental science question, but they all use scientific principles (which can be weaved into the activity). For every student that comes up with a neat project, 99 will spend an entire weekend bored, trying to put together a diorama that will get them at lea

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by apoc.famine ( 621563 )

          DING! You win the prize!

          As a science teacher, I can confirm this. 99% of students lack the background knowledge to do a minimal experiment, and lack the ambition to obtain that knowledge on their own. We patrol our (mandated, although we're not allowed to spend any major amount of time on it, due to our standardized state test content guidelines) Science Fair and look for the "least worst" projects to send to the state science fair. It's rare that we send a great project. Mostly, we aim for "doesn'

    • Yes, because it really is as simple as assigning students a project to "do an elaborate science project on your own within the confines of arbitrary rules and with no useful direction from your teacher."

      Given how well that works at spurring student interest, why did the submitter even bother asking?

  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:19PM (#27247807) Homepage

    There's a great documentary on a teacher who faced the same challenges and found innovating ways to overcome them. He needed to give his students some projects that would have real-world results that could be measured. In the end, he helped a classroom of very talented kids construct some world-class devices that made breakthroughs in the areas of lasers, inertial guidance, optics, and more.

    Very inspiration stuff, I highly recommend watching. Professor J. Hathaway should be commended for his innovative approach to this exact situation. More information on the documentary can be found here: []

  • FIRST Robotics (Score:2, Informative)

    by wirelessjb ( 806759 )
    Form a FIRST robotics [] team. One of their goals is to get a FIRST team in every high school.
    • I strongly Concur! A first robotics team. If not, there are a ton of other FIRST teams, from the Jr. Lego League (7 year olds I beleive) way on up. The do Lego leagues, Vex leagues, and the collosal ones for the "First Robotics League".

      It doesn't matter if your a high school, or an elementary school Brownie troupe - there's a league for you!

      Check it out!

  • by Hao Wu ( 652581 )
    I want my airbags tested by an enthusiastic teenager, not some beaten down engineer with years of backbreaking experience.

    All they need is the desire to succeed, in order to do bridge building or aeronautical design. Surgery too.
  • The problem with high school science is that it is learning what has already been learned. You should try some experiments that you yourself and the rest of the world doesn't know what the outcome will be. So you have them run the experiments document them and try to get it published.

    • In high school was convinced I could build a flying saucer just from a magazine article. The only thing I was missing was a terawatt laser. Don't aim too low. That being said, I also thought that the COBOL statement MOVE INVENTORY-IN TO INVENTORY-OUT involved robotics.

    • Care to make some suggestions about experiments that will have unknown results but don't require exotic materials or something like a particle accelerator or DNA sequencing equipment that a high school is unlikely to have?
    • My wife's an elementary school teacher, and I've been toying with an idea a science lesson (or series of lessons) for her class: you create an artificial system based to one degree or another on natural systems that have already been dealt with by science, then present it to the kids and task them with finding things out about it from what they can sense.

      The point of all this is to have the kids do all the major parts of real science, rather than just data collection or setting up some pre-determined experi

    • To me, one of the biggest downers of doing experiments in any science class was that I knew that what I was doing was trivial and had been done before. There was no real reason to do the experiment as the outcome was already known. Since I was quite willing to believe the peer-reviewed and much-previously-repeated scientific material at face value, I did not feel I needed to waste my time rubbing my nose in the hard experimental evidence. Yes, Virginia, I really do believe that if I mix this goo with thi

      • While I agree with the sentiment, the reality is that students need to develop understanding of the fundamental principles of science before they can advance to the cutting edge.

        More subtlely, though, is that by demonstrating directly to the student each major facet of scientific knowledge you free them from 'faith' knowledge. Science students don't need to take our word for it that water is polarised - they can see with their own eyes that an electric charge will deflect a water stream. The veil must be

    • Unfortunately I think coming up with something truly new to do with high-school level equipment and a teacher's who doesn't spend a lot of their time doing research might be difficult.

      That said, rather than trying to do new science, contributing to experiments and observations in a way thats more involved than Folding@Home would be easier. My recommendation, because it's something I'm working on right now, is asteroid hunting. A decent robotic observatory with a ~3-4" scope can do it quite well. If you c

  • If you want to motivate kids to learn computer science, show them that the computer can locate porn.

    If you want to motivate kids to learn chemistry, show them how to make meth.

    By the way, I am willing to consult for your educational system. My rates are quite reasonable.

  • How? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:31PM (#27248001) Homepage

    Let them blow up stuff. Really. They still may not like science afterward, but they'll have fun and it will weed out the stupid.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      There may still be some videos on YouTube of a chemistry lecture series done by the late Dr. John Salthouse from the University of Manchester. He ran a series of lectures which demonstrated all kinds of ways to blow things up. Liquid oxygen on rich tea biscuits (a UK cookie) was one of his favourites. Igniting steel wool with a 9v battery was another. There might be something that could be used in a high school that would be impressive enough and still legal.

    • I'll second that. Electrolyzing water is easy and makes a minor ex/implosion; we used a 100mL beaker. Was plenty of fun to entertain us 6th graders
      Other stuff we did:
      -we were put in groups and learned about flux, magnets, etc; and created a DC motor. The length of the rotating armature, and the number of windings we used was up to us.
      -had to research and build our own electrostatic generator. Only about half of the groups' generators worked, the best one was able to produce 1/2" sparks.

  • Model Rocketry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:36PM (#27248073)

    I did a rocketry project one year in physics and found out later that my teacher included it in his curriculum every year thereafter.

    • []

      It's an annual competition, and it geared towards getting 11-18 year olds into aerospace sciences. Many vendors in the model rocketry business give discounts to TARC teams, including building supplies, engines, design software, and flight electronics. There's a whole range of participation from the most simple to very complex. There may even be a local rocketeer, NAR ( section, or Tripoli ( prefecture close by who can help with the te

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:36PM (#27248081) Homepage

    When I was in high school, there was some kind of pilot program that I participated in where we helped do actual scientific research.

    Now I have no idea how they set it up or whether our work was ever actually taken seriously by anyone, since I was just a student at the time. I didn't have insight into that sort of thing. But the setup was that the teacher was put in touch with an organization that did research regarding weather patterns. We were given access to collect remote data from various weather stations, and even helped set up a few weather stations ourselves.

    So at the beginning of the year, the organization and the teacher worked out some projects which involved a fair amount of grunt work and not a lot of expertise (i.e. something a group of students might have some hope of doing) but that might possibly be helpful to the organization (at least supposedly). We were given a few options of different questions we might pursue, and then started collecting data under the supervision of the teacher, who I believe was something of a meteorologist to begin with.

    After a semester or year, whichever it was, we tried to pull together everything we'd done all year, analyze the data, and come up with a report to send to this organization, attempting to answer the question they asked us to research.

    Looking back, I would be very surprised if our work was at all useful to anyone. In fact, I have no doubt that the report very quickly found its way into the circular file, though they may have kept some of the data we collected for their own purposes. But at the time, that really didn't matter. It was kind of thrilling anyway.

    I don't think it was thrilling because of the science itself. Weather was far less interesting to me than something like relativity or quantum mechanics. What was thrilling about it was:

    1. We were trying to find an actual answer to a question where no one knew the answer. This wasn't one of those experiments where they have you mix NaOH and HCl and at the end the teacher tells you that the correct answer was "you made salt water". It was something where the teacher himself couldn't say what we were going to find before we started.
    2. It was (theoretically) actually useful research. We weren't just spinning our wheels doing busy work. Most of the time, me and my friends would make a bond fire at the end of each school year and throw all of our papers and homework on it because none of that stuff mattered or meant anything. But with this program, we were given the impression that the report would be stored someplace as real research that might actually be useful to someone at some point.
    • by Bowling Moses ( 591924 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @06:31PM (#27248841) Journal
      I happen to be on the other end of this. The lab I work in participates in a youth apprenticeship program with the local school district, and one of the options for the gifted and talented students that get into the program is biotechnology. For the last year and a half I've had a high school student assisting me (16 hours a week, full time in summer) on some of the research projects I'm working on (I'm a postdoctoral research associate in entomology). Through his lab work and a weekly 4 hour lab course he's learned quite a few skills. Cloning techniques, site-directed mutagenesis, how to do SDS-PAGE and acrylamide gel electrophoresis (non-bio people: put gene of interest into vector and then into bacteria, make specific mutation in gene, separate out proteins and DNA fragments by size), how to make up solutions, sterile technique, a bit of raising insects, and other basic molecular biology techniques. That and of course fill tip boxes and wash and autoclave labware, which is just as fun as it sounds. I try to keep it non-repetitive and introduce new things when he's mastered old, and his doing of more grunt work gives me time to do other things once I'm sure he's okay on his own for a given technique. Not many high school students are capable of operating at the level he's at. However the lab's been doing this for quite a few years now and all of the students leave with at least a good introduction to basic molecular biology techniques and what science is really like: if you only had to do it once it'd be search, not REsearch. I don't think they've ended up as authors on papers as of yet, but they do help keep the lab running. Some have been given mini-projects that have been of backburner project interest level, some of which now are being pursued by graduate students. So yes in the right environment high school students can make a contribution to real research.
      • That sounds terrific.

        Part of the reason for my post is that I'm generally of the opinion that teenagers would do better if we made better use of them. To some people that might sound opportunistic or something, like I'm advocating taking advantage of teenagers for slave labor, but I just mean we should probably stop treating them like useless idiots. If you're constantly treating young adults like they can't possibly do anything right or have anything useful to offer, then they might just live up to thos

  • Adam Savage's View (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nos. ( 179609 ) <andrew&thekerrs,ca> on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:39PM (#27248109) Homepage

    Adam Savage (from Mythbusters), wrote an article [] in Popular Mechanics a few months ago talking about science the US education system.

    • 'cept these guys are not scientists - they're 90% entertainers and 10% engineers. They don't do experiments (despite what the shows might say), they produce demonstrations where the main criterion is to have an outcome that is "camera friendly".

      I can tell they don't do any science as none of their work is every repeated - they do something once, then call that the result. They usually know beforehand what the outcome will be. They never account for all the variables in a situation and almost never produce

  • I have been thinking about this and have realized that I grew up with science and math being pushed. Today, it is legal, Liberal Arts, and business "real world" garbage that is pushed. Our society needs to go back to the 40's, 50's, and 60's when kids learned science/math in a real fashion.

    I have also thought about the fact that we had real science kits. Over the last 8 years, we have been turned into a nation of cheerleaders and flag wavers (literally). We need to get past this fear garbage and bring bac
    • I hate the idea that everyone is cut out for science, math, or even graduation. Even in your idealized 50's (which is fiction) there was no shortage of drop-outs, brain dead curriculum, cheating, home economics, etc.

      The direction the modern world has taken is for the best. There are tons of electronics kits out there and those who want them can get them. There's tons of great programs like FIRST robotics. Computer Science is alive and well. Math is doing fine, thanks for asking. Those who care will find the

      • Let me guess, you are a product of the current generation.

        First, my 2 y.o. is VERY advanced for his age. The fact that you would take potshots at a child speaks a lot about you and your upbringing. Basically, you are a coward.

        Second, the 50's REQUIRED ALL STUDENTS TO TAKE A CERTAIN LEVEL. Yes, there were drop outs. But it was to support the family, not because the kids were lazy. In addition, even back then, the schools PUSHED excellence and rewarded those teachers that pushed it.Now, the unions put all
  • There is a 3d protein folding game called Foldit that would be appropriate: []

    It is an experiment to see if human problem and puzzle solving can be superior in ways to the existing protein folding projects like Rosetta@Home, Folding@home, etc.
    But besides that you get to learn in a visual way about proteins and solve real problems.

    • I actually spent some time with Foldit. I learned very very little. Then they introduced awful music that was like fingernails on the chalkboard to me. Requests to provide a feature to disable the "music" without completely muting the program were ignored and unresponded to (muting was not a solution since audio feedback for some operations is critical). It drove me to kick the cat, beat the wife and abuse the children. I can no longer run foldit, and suggest that for the sake of world peace others avoid i
  • I've always been interested in Real Science. How do I code up my own perfect, obedient, all-powerful chick with great tits and a great ass?
  • At my high school there was a normal Physics class, but a separate after school lab. Our teacher lured us in with free computers, and challenged us with experiments while we were there. The lab has oscilloscopes, a/d converters, lasers, electronics - basically a physics funhouse.

  • have them build a wiki for the express purpose of getting science information being used in high schools all around the world.
    Break it up in a manner that looks at each topic scientifically, and easy enough to read for the grade
    That way they need to learn about how science works.

    Done correctly, and kids could be adding there own experiment and finding things they like in science for years to come.
    In fact, it could be used to generate a curriculum for science classes..a FREE curriculum.
    Freshmen could be tas

  • Step 1: have them sign a statement to the effect that they donate their body to science
    Step 2: shoot them
    Step 3: if necessary, shoot them again

    Mission accomplished!

  • This is a bit more mathematics than general science, but I'd suggest GIMPS [] for a chance to find a huge prime or, if they're more interested in actually finding a prime than searching for an enormous one, I'd suggest No Prime Left Behind (NPLB) [].

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @05:52PM (#27248317)

    You are teaching them science is boring. Stop it!

    BOINC is interesting if your machine finds the aliens, and actually told you it did.

    Galaxy Zoo is for when there is no fresh paint to watch dry.

    In my physics classes in high school we DID things, and then we explained the math behind them, and why that was physics. Most interesting physics demonstrations involve statics, harmonic oscillation, analytical mechanics - physical motion - or at least the interesting ones do.

    Sometimes we'd just start the week with letting people ask questions about things that made them curious that might be related to physics.

    Here's a list of projects we did, and which your students could do:

    - build bridges out of balsa wood to demonstrate statics principles and the ability to bear loads (by loading them up until they break)
    - build water balloon catapults and see who throws the balloons farthest
    - build ping-pong ball alcohol canons
    - launch model rockets, preferably with instrument payloads
    - build hover crafts using vacuum cleaner motors and race them down the hallway past the principals office
    - build a Focault's pendulum to demonstrate rotation of the earth
    - put a bowing ball on the end of a rope and show it doesn't smack you in the face because you let it go and it doesn't get energy added to the system on its way back
    - demonstrate the coefficient of sliding friction with a triangle block, a square block with a hile drilled through it, some twine tied through the hole, and a fishing scale
    - build a model roller coaster
    - build a tesla coil and use it to shoot aluminum rings cut from the ends of pipes up in the air
    - build a blower box with an orange traffic cone glued on top and float a ball there to demonstrate Bernoulli's principle
    - dig out the switch/relay/light boxes from the 1960's classes and wire them all together to build an adder
    - use a Van de Graff generator to make people's hair stand out straight from their heads
    - show them a Newton's Cradle execu-toy
    - put grapes in a microwave oven to demonstrate plasmas
    - make little boats with wedges in their backs, stick pieces of soap there, and race them to demonstrate surface tension
    - spin buckets of water without the water falling out
    - shock people with Leyden jars
    - build a Wimshurst generator
    - build a Sterling cycle engine with a bicycle wheel and rubber bands

    And that is just stuff we DID, off the top of my head, 20+ years ago -- stuff I still REMEMBER to this day, in my day job as a SCIENTIST -- because I had a great physics teacher in High School.

    -- Terry

  • The first bit of real science I was involved in, as were most of the science people I know, involved cleaning up after the the real real scientists. The as time progressed I was allowed to do other exciting tasks such as putting lugging and putting together equipment, and sitting next to a machine making sure it was working correctly and collecting data. Other real scientists I know weighed hundred of small rocks, or went to the library and copied dozens of articles. In other words, if you want to get stu
  • GPS chips, arduinos, and sensors that can detect pollution are cheap. [] Get students to create a mash-up map of their local environmental pollution hotspots by wearing a portable detector around.
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Wednesday March 18, 2009 @06:09PM (#27248551)
    It mostly involves attending meetings to try and get funding for your next year, or your research students (they're the people who actually *do* the work) or that piece of equipment you want/need. To do this you have to sell your case and make it appear better, more cost-effective, likely to bring credit, than all the other scientists who are after the same money and are therefore trying to discredit your proposal.

    When you're not doing that, you are desperately trying to find a new angle on old data to write a paper for publication. You need to do this in order to keep your reputation (and therefore pay and ability to get funding) hot. Once written, you'll spend more time trying to get it published somewhere, or peer-reviewing some other guy's paper.

    Almost never will you get into the lab, and even when you do most of your time will be spent setting up, calibrating, tweaking, debugging and modifying your equipment. The chances of you making a discovery that will be named after you are infinitesimally small, as all the good ones are already taken. Even then, you'll probably be dead before anyone recognises the contribution you have made - or the true value of your work.

    You best bet, if you want your children to become successful scientists, is to teach them how to stay awake in meetings, diss their colleagues while appearing to be friendly, engaging in office politics, learning to recognise who to scmooze and kiss up to and marketing old ideas with a new spin - every year for the rest of their careers.

  • Seriously, blow shit up. NOTHING gets a bored teenager more interested in science of any kind than an explosion.

    Don't worry about the smart kids, unless - like me - they figure out how to make something like silver acetelide, con the lab assistant into handing out the needed chemicals, and then sprinkle the aforementioned unstable compound all over your desk.

    If you really want to push the physics aspect of it, start something like a model rocketry club/group. Hell, you can even start out with a 2-litre coke

    • Great Egg Race projects. Easy to establish a problem in physics and engineering that students can solve that are hard enough to be challenging and which do something that is obviously interesting.
    • Astronomy. There's plenty of Open Source code for creating images for amateur astronomy. What there isn't (at least, as far as I know) is any software for doing visible light interferometry. Set up a cluster of telescopes (they're cheap enough) and get the students to link them together as a single interferometry a
  • Running computer programs is nice, and might help out someone else (if they're watching). Chances are that the kids won't get much from it.

    Instead, have them do something they want to do. When I was in high school, there was a program for chemistry and physics (over two years), and the fourth quarter of Year #2 you did independent work on whatever you wanted in the chem/phys realm.

    Of course there were rules and regulations. At the beginning of Year #2, we had to submit a list of possible topics, then sub

  • Lie to the students and convince them that scientists get huge paychecks, huge bonuses, huge respect, and girl/boy friends with huge (place favorite body part here) just like Wall street traders that destroy World economies or rap/hip hop "artists" that preach (and often preform) misogyny and violence.

    Sadly, science is a road to becoming an underpaid lab rat or high school instructor. I gave up designing computer systems and portable devices to pursue systems analysis and programming. The opportunity, hours

  • I suggest: Explosion Club

    First rule of Explosion Club: You do not talk about Explosion Club.

    Second rule of Explosion Club: YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT EXPLOSION CLUB.

    The last rule of Explosion Club: If it's your first time, you mix the chemicals yourself and will blow something up.

  • Last fall, I attended a Faraday Lecture []. This is a lecture consisting of really cool science demonstrations and things that teachers can use in their classrooms to really blow students away -- think of things that blow up and other nifty demos. This was done in Pittsburgh, but a quick google search on the topic indicates that perhaps Rutgers does this as well.
  • How about talking to the government about giving NASA a big funding boost (hey, why not as long as we're going into debt for trillions for bankers and stock-traders anyway?) and getting some serious and ambitious manned missions planned?

    Nothing gets kids fired up about science as much as the thought of growing up to be an astronaut. Back during the space programs' heydays of the '60s and '70s, it was actually *cool* to do well in school, science in particular.

    Since the rollback of manned space exploration m

  • There's a reasonable chance that there's somebody at your local university that would be interested in working with some interested high school students. Finding that person could be the tricky part: I'd suggest going to the relevant department's web site and see if you can find somebody who does outreach/recruiting/admissions.

  • Put Them In Charge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Thursday March 19, 2009 @05:16AM (#27252953) Journal

    Organize a working lab for them. They are to decide (within your specified field) what they find interesting and want to learn about. An example from my work, someone noted that the doors on the local Walmart had IN and OUT signs, that some people tended to ignore those, and that the IN and OUT were on opposite sides on the opposite ends of the building. They wanted to know why the sides were different, and depending on the answer, seeing if that answer had anything to do with the first.

    Make them responsible for the project by making yourself simply the most knowledgeable member of the lab team. Allow them every source they can think of, including any other teachers or yourself, because when people do real science they're not restricted to the one authority supervising them.

    When they pick what to study, help them develop the methodology/design. Describe why you chose one in terms they can understand.

    Set them collecting their data, tell them how best to analyze it, and let them go. Provide them with a template of how you want them to produce their results (APA paper format or a poster template).

    Let them make their own mistakes and try to correct them. If they ask for help, give it, because you're a lab member too.

    I've done this with undergrad labs, including one with 3 high school students among the 8 members. Two went to international conferences, two others got published. They were always done by a 1 hour per week, 16 week lab course, plus the necessary extra time of working in the lab.

    Oh, and let them tell you what their part will be. Some are not good at the science, but may be good at the writing. Let them write it up. The point is not to get each to accomplish some pre-determined hoop jumping, but to get the lab as an organization to produce one good result, just like other real labs do.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva