Student-Designed Courses: Phunsics Year 3 First Semester Recap

Previously in this space I wondered about my sanity plans for continuing to allow students to more or less run their physics class as an open workshop or maker-space. As it turns out, I did indeed decide to continue the student-designed format for this class for two main reasons. First of all, this year the physics class got scheduled for 7th hour, which is at the end of the day when students are at their most brain-dead and need to be up and moving around. The second and perhaps more important reason is that I knew most of the students coming in to the class in August and by looking at the roster, I could guess that a traditional math-based physics curriculum was going to flop. That’s no slam on these kids, they’ve got lots of talent, but I recognized that to try to do a more traditional physics prep at the end of the school day with this particular group of students would be a waste of their time.

Fortunately for all concerned, the choice to let students use their time in my class as they see fit has paid off quite well so far this year. The Phun6 students formed teams and have pursued several projects of their own choosing. However, this group has been more private in their sharing of their projects compared to the last two Phunsics classes. Instead of creating a public-facing blog, they chose to make a private Facebook Phun6 group where they’ve been updating each other and myself as to what they have accomplished.

Since there’s a bit of mystery surrounding this year’s Phun6 team, I thought I’d use this post to bring you up to speed on some of the projects that they’ve tackled this year so far:

-We have resurrected and refurbished the potato cannon from Phunsics 2011:

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-We have created a pendulum wave machine:

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-We created some conductive and nonconductive squishy circuit dough and built circuits:

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-We built model rockets and tried out a two-stage design:

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-We built V2.0 of the Phunsics quadcopter from scratch, got all 4 motors to spin up, and even got it to hop on a short flight before we killed one of the motors and most of the propeller blades:

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-Several Phunsics alumni from School of Mines stopped by to check out the quadcopter and lend a hand in determining our next steps to get it flying:

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-We built and launched a rocket-powered car (prototype shown):

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-We constructed a Reuben’s Tube for visualizing music and sound waves with fire :

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Here’s a Vine of some of the pitches tested.

-We modified the flame tube setup to run two tubes simultaneously, one for bass and one for treble. While very impressive, the bass tube pressures kept blowing out our flames:

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-We are nearly finished building an air-powered marshmallow gun:

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-We produced a video of the “12 Days of Physics” documenting our adventures (and mishaps) during the class so far:

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We might publish the video to YouTube when we get back to school in January or maybe we’ll decide to spare you the exposure to our out-of-tune guitars and amateur singing.

Looking ahead to next semester, one of the groups has plans to help a wheelchair-bound friend of ours by designing an attachment that will make it easier to connect a regular wheelchair to a power-assist Firefly unit. That project is just getting started, but has the potential to be really useful to someone and might even lead to some limited commercialization of the product if we do a decent enough job at it.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for what they manage to dream up next semester!

 

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