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Newton’s Laws of Motion Go Wheels Up at Local Middle School

INDIAN HEAD, Md. – Eighth grade science students at Matthew Henson Middle School in Bryans Road, Maryland, got a chance to put Newton’s laws of motion into action thanks to NSWC Indian Head Division. The command’s STEM outreach group donated a box of STEM “balloon buggy” activity kits to Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) for distribution. NSWC IHD Chief Technology Officer Dr. Kerry Clark, Deputy Chief Technology Officer Coit Hendley and STEM Coordinator Catherine Shingleton visited the school on June 8 to interact with the students to build the buggies and have some fun.

Erin Lewis, science teacher at Matthew Henson, led her students in the balloon buggy activity. She teaches five science classes each day and has half of all eighth graders in the school. Lewis engaged the students in a recap about Newton’s laws of motion before handing out the kits. She went over five challenges that the students should complete:

  1. Distance – How far can it go?
  2. Weight – How much weight can go at least two inches?
  3. Ramp – How steep of a ramp can the car travel up?
  4. Carpet – Can your car drive over rough terrain?
  5. Circles – Can your car complete a 360° circle?

“They love it. They love anything hands-on,” said Lewis. “Today’s goal is to get [the buggies] working. Tomorrow they will try the other challenges and do some modifications — making the buggy smaller, etc. so they can complete the last challenge to make the car go in circles.”

CCPS Science Content Specialist Ian Buter and his colleague, Leigh Ann Anderson, also participated in the balloon buggy activity with the students. Buter manages science resources for high schools and middle schools within the school system, while Anderson covers half of the middle schools and all elementary schools. They support science teachers with professional development and other activities such as lab ideas to help them better engage with students.

“We met with [Dr.] Kerry [Clark] in the fall to discuss how NSWC Indian Head can partner with the school system to provide STEM activities for our students,” said Buter. “The balloon buggy activity complements the physics lessons these students learned earlier in the spring. It’s a great way to reinforce the concepts they learned. The kits are perfect — rather than the teacher explaining instructions step by step, the kit has everything the students need to build the buggies. The kids are exploring and are excited. They’re looking around to see how their other classmates made theirs and they’re comparing notes. It’s a great way to put Newton’s laws into a real-world example. The next day, Ms. Lewis will ‘clean it all up’ and go over everything and ask the students how it worked and what they learned as a way to assess student learning.”

Anderson also commented that, “This activity was a great example of fun activities that give the students a chance to apply everything they’ve learned. It’s an awesome opportunity, especially for all students to really get active, involved, and find success.”

Buter and Anderson develop science activities for the classroom that are more interactive and engaging so that the students can become scientifically literate. “Making those connections eventually leads them to recognize there are job opportunities that mirror practices in STEM at Indian Head,” remarked Buter.

“The command really enjoys opportunities like this to promote practical, real-world applications of STEM education,” said Dr. Clark. “We want to be an active force in training the next generation of scientists and engineers at Indian Head.”

NSWC IHD — a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy’s Science and Engineering Establishment — is the leader in ordnance, energetics, and EOD solutions. The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, manufacturing and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.