It was almost impossible to not pay attention to the Red Bull Stratos Jump this last week. Especially being a physics teacher. I knew this was a big deal, and an exciting deal, even for high school students.
As information and analysis was flying all over the Blogs, Listserves, and Twitter I tried to figure out how can I use this? My students are just finishing up the Constant Velocity Model, so their understanding at this point is limited. Then I came across Peter Kupfer’s message on the Modeling Listserve. The link is here: http://blog.peterkupfer.net/2012/10/15/using-the-red-bull-stratos-space-jump-in-physics-class/
I found that Peter used the speedometer shown in the video to create a velocity vs. time graph! Sweet, thanks Peter! The graph is below. The way Peter used it was to calculate the jerk experienced during the time of increasing acceleration. My students are no where near ready to do that yet, so I focused on the segment between 45 sec and 60 sec.
A link to the worksheet I created with this data is here: Felix Space Jump CV Analysis
Basically what I did was created a “How Do You Apply the Model” problem as well as a “Goal-less” problem. I wanted students to be able to draw other representations of his fall during the 15 seconds in which he was falling at constant velocity. They were able to draw x vs. t graphs, and motion maps. Some even wrote written descriptions and mathematical models!
As students were drawing these they noticed that the speed is in mph and the time axis is in seconds. Only a few took it upon themselves to do the appropriate conversion to miles/second. I ended up showing the class how that worked out on the front board, but once I did that they were able to solve for distance covered as well as correctly scale their graphs and motion maps.
Most students were amazed that he covered 3 miles in this 15 seconds. “That’s ridiculous” was a common quote.
Overall I really loved how this current event fit so nicely in with the unit we are studying. The fact we were able to analyze even a portion of the data with our limited skills was awesome. I did get a lot of questions about other aspects of the entire fall and how to analyze those, including the “why did he travel at a constant velocity.” It was a perfect time for me to explain that our current model is quite limited and we need to work on developing some new models. WIN! I do plan to pull this data out again as we get into forces and acceleration. It should be fun.
Even through all this fun and excitement (for me) there are always a couple of students that do not appreciate the sweetness of this analysis. One young man went so far as to jokingly say, “way to ruin the coolest thing I’ve seen in while.” (At least I hope it was a joke).