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Highland Park hosts elaborate NASA/Honeywell production



Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Calvin Hall sticks to a giant velcro wall to demonstrate a principle of physics during a NASA/Honeywell-sponsored STEM assembly at Highland Park Middle School on Friday.Students at Highland Park Middle School got their

Friday physics lesson delivered in the form of hip-hop dancers, wacky science demonstrations and video interviews with NASA scientists.

And along the way, they memorized Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion formulated more than 300 years ago by the renowned physicist.

The appearance was part of the FMA Live! Forces in Motion tour, which goes by the subtitle of the NASA/Honeywell Hip Hop Physics Tour, a nationwide production designed to engage students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) endeavors.

“This is our 10th anniversary,” announced Ron Hemke, house manager for the event. “On this tour, we will reach our 1,000th school.”

With that, NASA administrator Charles Bolden told students via video that even Sir Isaac Newton would be pleased with the Forces in Motion production as a way to teach physics in a way “no textbook ever could.”

Then, for the next 45 minutes, hip-hop dancers/actors J.J. (aka John James), Erick Nathan and Sharmaine Tate entertained students with their dancing and singing, all with a nod to Newton’s three laws: Demonstrating inertia where objects in motion or at rest remain that way unless influenced by an outside force, force equals mass times acceleration and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“Everything’s in motion,” J.J. pointed out. “It all comes down to science — physics, to be exact.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Highland Park Principal David Nieslanik is covered in applesauce during an assembly illustrating three laws of physics.

The actors were aided by an on-screen actor portraying a dry-witted Newton who drove his physics points home through such demonstrations as a basketball game homing in on Newton’s second law by having an athlete perform a layup with a normal basketball and then one filled with water.

Later, in order to demonstrate how force equals mass times acceleration, two Highland Park students in Velcro suits tried their hand at jumping against a Velcro wall before sixth-grader Kili Garcia was drafted to kick a soccer ball into a net. Garcia had no initial problem until the balls she was given became larger each time until she tried to kick one her own height. She couldn’t move it.

“It didn’t budge because of its massive mass,” actor Nathan explained. In order to move such an object, the soccer player’s leg would have to be as large as the Statue of Liberty.

One of the show’s highlights was watching physical education teachers Sam Marshall and Mike Vanoudenhaugen climb into oversized sumo wrestling suits and attempt to knock one another down.

In the end, even Principal David Nieslanik got into the act, donning a white protective suit while students used slingshots to shoot rubber balls at two targets. When they hit the bull’s-eye, a bucket of applesauce was dumped on Nieslanik’s head to the delight of the students.

Nieslanik later said the production fit in well with Highland Park’s designation as a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school.

Nieslanik said he thought the sixth-graders (the seventh- and eighth-graders attended an afternoon performance) enjoyed the show.

“They were very excited to participate,” he said. “It’s great for the kids to see the elements of STEM played out in music and sport.”

While the United States still has the world’s largest number of scientists and engineers, those numbers are dropping, according to Honeywell officials. In addition, the National Science Board points out that the United States lags in science and math performances with students scoring below-average in math.

When it was over, the sixth-grade participants reflected on their experiences.

Kili Garcia said she found the event to be loads of fun. “I loved it,” she said. “It was really interesting.”

Although Jeanine Carrington was unsuccessful in tossing the balls that would ultimately splash the applesauce on her principal, she said she loved the comedy involved with the production. Tehya Kalestinantz

also didn’t hit the target, but had a good time anyway, saying the morning provided some important lessons for students.

Esteban Hernandez, one of the lucky ones who did hit the bull’s-eye, said the most important thing he learned was “that to accelerate you need a force.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Highland Park students cheer on their classmates during a physics-based assembly on Friday.

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