Flying cars may just be the future of science, technology, engineer and mathematics (STEM) education.
Students at Pittsburg High School got to be on the leading edge of that trend as PHS, Pittsburg State University, PITSCO Education partnered and collaborated on a study of educational techniques that involved an applied 10-day unit of integrated science, technology and math learning.
At the beginning of the class period in which the cars were launched, Mike Neden, associate professor of technology and workforce learning at Pitt State, noted that the activity disrupted normal classes, but said he hopes that is alright.
"I don't think you realize yet how important this project is," he said. "I think this is a wonderful opportunity and I hope we push this on further at Pittsburg State University."
Neden also noted that the Pittsburg State students have had fun with the project.
"My students have had a great experience," he said.
The fun then began as 14 teams of four students launched their cars via the AeroMax at Gorilla Gulch motorized ramp developed for this project by students at PSU.
"They performed tests with AeroMax to see what would happen with test cars," Dunekack said.
Students then had the opportunity to hypothesize and to place weights in various locations on the cars, and also to choose from a selection of lubricants for the axels in hopes of achieving both the greatest flight distance and the farthest distance traveled before coming to a stop.
Students watched as each team tested its car and together students and teachers discussed what might be going on when cars failed to launch, make the jump, or remain intact on the other end of the jump.
In the end, Allie Casper, Kylynn Collins, Christian Dalton and Malachi Cook won both parts of the competition.
Page 2 of 3 - They said a few things set their car apart.
"We were the only team to use graphite as a lubricant," Dalton said, adding that the dry lubricant on the wheels seemed to help.
Cook added that the team opted not to use any weights on the car, which likely helped with its flight and distance.
Each team featured students who are in different academic disciplines this semester, and Collins and Dalton came in with the science emphasis, Casper brought the math element and Cook came in with a background of technology and safety.
They said aside from a couple decisions in materials, the only other advantage may have been the care they put into the project. While some cars exploded on impact, theirs only featured a bent tail fin following its flight.
"I'm not really sure it was different," Cook said. "We were just careful putting it together."
"The machine wasn't perfect," Dalton added. "With a few tweaks you could make it a lot better."
However, they said the two-week project made learning much more enjoyable than it could have been.
"Most of the time, it's like, 'How does this even apply to my life?'" Cook said.
"Some of the things would be like, 'How does this apply to a different subject?'" Dalton added, noting it was very helpful when all the disciplines were brought together. "Instead of just sitting in the classroom, getting to do it hands-on was better."
Collins said the opportunity to use technology also made it enjoyable.
Rachel Hartley, a PSU student doing her student teaching in technology with Dunekack, said it was a great experience for her.
"They learned things they didn't even know they learned," she said. "It's so great because I think integrated curriculum is such a good thing. The application part is so crucial."
Page 3 of 3 - She said it also was enjoyable to work with her classmates at Pitt State throughout the project.
"It's great, because I get to see my cohorts come in and get data," she said.
Dorcia Johnson, a documentation manager at PITSCO, was on hand for the launch and said she also will be working with Pitt State to crunch data from the students' pre and post tests and to see how the students learned.
"We've broken that down so we will be able to analyze this data by gender, by discipline and by group," Johnson said, adding that the test results also will indicate whether a particular progression through the rotations of math, science and technology is more beneficial than others.
She said she and Jamie Wood, a member of PSU's psychology department, will analyze the data.
Neden said the project at Pittsburg High School is on the beginning edge of a push toward more integration of the fields of study for practical learning.
"There's been a push toward encouraging students to get more involved in math, science and technology," he said.
Neden noted that math and science are required in high schools, but that students will encounter technology in their lives beyond school.
"They all end up using technology in some form or another," he said.
The study will be used for determining potential models for future collaboration, and Neden said his long-term goal is to see STEM curriculum required at the ninth-grade level nation-wide.