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Young teacher puts education in motion

Union Leader Correspondent

December 09. 2013 11:01PM
Londonderry High School student Sami Tocman loads her catapult with a tennis ball Monday afternoon as part of a project for her College Prep Physics class. (APRIL GUILMET)

LONDONDERRY — When contemplating one of her very first lesson plans, student teacher Jenna Reynolds realized sometimes the best lessons come from hands-on experience.

With that in mind, the soon-to-be physics teacher changed gears as she prepared to teach 90 or so Londonderry High School seniors a thing or two about projectile motion.

Several weeks ago Reynolds, a student teacher who is working with veteran teacher Anthony Cariello's College Prep Physics students this semester, tasked students with building their own catapults.

The finished products were required to launch tennis balls toward targets between 2 and 6 meters.

Cariello said he gave Reynolds free rein over the project, with his only requirement being that she teach the students the science of projectile motion.

"Which means that a traveling object is only influenced by gravity," he explained.

Reynolds told the students they could use whatever materials they liked to build their tennis-ball-launching machines, asking them each to keep a journal documenting their creative progress.

Seniors Summer Sanderson, Tia Andary, Stephanie Conti and Caroline Muse teamed up to create the catapult.

Sanderson said it took them several evenings to build the final product, after spending much time researching and brainstorming.

"We even watched a video of the Angry Birds characters meant to show us how to use different angles for shooting," Muse said.

Conti said the "trial and error" phase of the project proved a bit daunting, though once the final catapult was built, all four students were pleased to discover their makeshift machine "hit the target on the first try."

Along the way, of course, design challenges and creative musings were scratched into the team's journal.

"We recorded the project every step of the way," Andary said.

Reynolds said she decided to assign the catapult project because she realized some students learn differently than others.

"It's been a great experience for them, because some of us are simply more hands-on than others," said Reynolds, who worked as an engineer before going back to school to pursue her teaching certification.

"Other students have told me they'd never used a hammer before," she added.

While most of the catapults were fashioned from wood, the art of creative improvisation was certainly exercised.

"I've seen a lot of lacrosse sticks today," Reynolds said with a laugh. Another team incorporated a dog toy in their final catapult, she said.

The catapult made by students Tim Court, Will Bates, Katelyn Cintron and Sami Tocman featured a tennis-ball holder made from a red plastic baby dish.

Court said the team ended up using the data analysis program LoggerPro to assist them in the process.

"I ended up downloading it," he said. "That made it 10 times easier."

When asked what she learned in the process of catapult building, Cintron didn't hesitate to reply: "I would have thought six meters was much farther."

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