AP Physics C Students Explore Rotation for Charity

Jenny Xu, Executive Editor


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  • Students excitedly watch to see which can will make it across the line first.

  • Michael Austin ’17 prepares for the next race.

  • Megalion Oei ’17 watches the cans in anticipation.

  • The cans in the next heat are placed on the ground.

    Stephane Shih

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The AP Physics C class began their unit on rotation on Wednesday, Nov. 9 with a unique race involving rolling cans as their introductory experiment. Students brought in up to three cans each, and rolled the cans down in groups of three, ordered by height so that the cans in each heat would be of similar size. Those whose cans won were awarded with bonus points on the unit test, the winners of each round receiving one bonus point. The fastest cans of each heat would advance to the next round, where they would compete again, until it was narrowed down to the fastest can.

While this experiment provided an exciting way for students to be introduced to their new unit, it also served another purpose. Students were able to do something charitable by leaving their cans at school for AP Physics C Teacher Leslie Drake to bring to a food bank over Thanksgiving break.

There were a variety of cans brought to school, ranging from large, pea-filled ones, to smaller ones filled with tuna. With this being the first time learning about rotation, students had to experiment by themselves at home to see which ones would roll the fastest.             

“They don’t have a whole lot of background knowledge on rotation concepts just yet, so this is kind of their exploration into what will make something rotate faster,” Ms. Drake said. “Because this is the beginning of this unit, it’s a lot of guesswork right now for them. They don’t yet have most of the equations and a lot of the concepts that would help them win; if we did this again at the end of the unit I think it would be a different kind of race.”

The two finalists ended up bringing cans of completely different sizes, with seventh block winner Cara Dolbear ‘17 bringing a large pumpkin-filled can, and runner-up Ariel Whitehead ‘17 racing with a small can of tomato paste.

While figuring out which cans would roll best proved to be a challenge, students also ran into problems involving collisions of cans, and cans not making it all the way down the ramp.

“[It was hard] just getting them to run straight, there were a lot of collisions so it was kind of hectic and very competitive,” Dolbear said.

Aside from gaining knowledge about their new unit, students had the opportunity to get to know their classmates even better.

“My favorite part was more of the group bonding,” Whitehead said. “In the classroom typically everyone does individual work, it’s separated into whatever groups they have, but in this competition everyone’s together and all rooting for each other or themselves.”