As a soccer ball smashed into DeKalb Middle School teacher Mike Lewis's helmet, he learned a lesson — if science lessons strain students' brains, then you can trade them for hands-on science experiments that will knock their socks off.
Lewis joined 48 other middle and high school teachers from more than 25 area schools during a two-week program at Tennessee Tech University this summer to learn more about teaching math and science through applied lessons. Teachers made flashlights from toilet paper rolls, programmed robots and hurled soccer balls at each other all in the name of learning.
"When we strap an accelerometer to the helmet, we can measure the change of momentum that occurs when the soccer ball hits the helmet," said Stephen Canfield, a TTU mechanical engineering professor who led one of dozens of sessions. "This is a great way to show students what a helmet goes through during a crash and the science and engineering involved in their every day lives."
In its second year, the grant-funded program called MSP continues to evolve into what area teachers want to make it.
"We've listened to teachers and adjusted our programs to bring teachers into their comfort zones," said Roy Loutzenheiser, program director. "We added a stronger math component and responded to help them fill in their weaknesses with hands-on lessons."
Teachers left campus with more than just lesson plans; they took about $900 worth of equipment back to each school. This year's educational goodie bag included tools like those used during the sessions, including light sensors, sound meters, accelerometers, force plates and software.
Some teachers took up playing with Legos to create fully autonomous robots capable of performing programmed tasks. Each year Tennessee Tech hosts the FIRST Lego League tournament for middle school students, and some teachers committed to coaching a team next year.
"We offered up to 16 sets of Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention Systems worth $350 each to teachers who agreed to coach a Lego League team for the coming year," said Kris Craven, TTU mechanical engineering professor.
George of Warren County High School returned this year for the program because they put what they learned last year to work in their classrooms.
"They loved the Three-Dorito experiment," said Warren. "Using a temperature probe, our students learned how to measure the energy from three different types of Doritos."
"Our students got to burn something, something they had for lunch," chuckled Majors. "They loved that."