Designing educational thirlls

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    NEWTON-These kids take their fun seriously. Eleven fifth- and sixth-graders are looking at Ferris wheels and seeing support, weight, wind pressure and balance, and they're boarding roller coasters carrying instruments to measure G forces and speed. The students are in the Amusement Park Science class, part of Sussex County Community College's Academy for the Gifted and Talented, which recently finished up its first round of courses. After learning the basic theory of physics behind amusement park rides, the students worked on computer simulations, visited the real thing at Dorney Park and then back in the classroom, designed their own rides. For their last class, they built a model amusement park using kits. "I wanted to teach them the thrill of learning science," said Sundaram Thirukkurungudi, instructor for the class. The students now understand the physics behind the fun n perhaps all too well. "It started to scare me when I went on roller coasters," said 10-year-old Zachary Zavoda of Green Township, when he learned that the human body can't handle too much gravitational force. The students learned just why some rides are built the way they are n to give the rider a thrill, but keep him safe. And building rides is harder than they expected n even when they're models. "This takes a lot of concentration," said Kayla Kahn of Green Township. "It takes two people." Thirukkurungudi said he encourages the students to work in groups, so their different learning styles and strengths can complement each other. Thirukkurungudi, who also teaches high school physics in Piscataway, wrote the curriculum for the course, based on an amusement park science class he taught in the Mid East for 11th and 12th graders, and adapted for a younger group. He let his students design their own amusement park rides using materials found in most houses, garages and on the shelves of Home Depot. Marbles, a hamster wheel, plastic baskets, containers and pieces of wood provided the building blocks for the designs. "It's all about problem-solving situations," he said. The high point of the 10-session course was the field trip to Dorney Park. The students made G force meters and other measuring tools to take on the rides with them, to see for themselves how the rides provide their thrills. Amusement Park Science is one of the courses that will be offered again through SCCC's Academy for the Gifted and Talented. Course offerings for Spring 2005 also include fiction writing, radio workshop, Lego robotics and electromagnetism. The academy is to provide extra-curricular classes to fifth- and sixth-grade students who are advanced learners.