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Ellicott City: Burleigh Manor Middle School students create scientific thrill rides

By Lisa Regnante, lisagueliregnante@verizon.net 410-480-1928

January 16, 2012

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Thanks to Burleigh Manor Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Ken Senisi, students there are calling physics "fun" - a word not often associated with the complex study of matter.

It started as an idea to make the curriculum "come alive". Then Senisi's project gained speed within the science department with team leader George McGurl and took off as the entire eighth grade (all 214 students) participated in what would become an exciting team-wide "thrill ride" — the Roller Coaster project.

Conceived with the aid of Katherine Browning, a visiting Johns Hopkins graduate student, Senisi created the Roller Coaster project, a culminating project for the science curriculum Forces and Motion Unit.

"We thought it would be a great idea to have our students apply science, math, and engineering to what they learned through a fun and entertaining project," Senisi said.

Burleigh Manor students worked independently or in groups to build 90 working roller coaster structures. Some were desk size while others were 6 feet tall.

"The kids were not only creative in their design but in the materials they choose. They used toilet paper and paper towels rolls, legos, form board, doll houses and plastic tubing to form the roller coaster loops," Burleigh Manor Principal Claire Hafets said.

In addition to constructing a working roller coaster structure, the students were required to write an argument essay defending how their thrill ride best exemplified each of Newton's three laws of motion.

The students were invited to showcase their roller coasters designs at an evening event complete with official judges and open to the public. It was standing room only when over 400 members of the Centennial community attended the first Burleigh Manor middle roller coaster night.

Many attendees were young children — siblings, friends and neighbors of Burleigh Manor students - who were fascinated by the interactive roller coasters displays.

One such 9-year-old was the daughter of Bill Barnes, the coordinator of secondary mathematics for the Howard County school system. Since this was the first event of its kind, Barnes had no idea what to expect or how his daughter would relate to the middle school projects.

The evening would prove to have unintended consequences. Barnes explains, " As a direct result of taking my daughter to the Burleigh Manor roller coaster event, she asked me for a K'NEX Coaster kit. She played with her roller coaster design for hours with her cousin, removing the car and substituting it with different household items — mimicking the Burleigh Manor students projects."

He went on to say that his daughter had so much fun at the event and with her K'NEX kit that she asked him what a person is called who designs roller coasters. When he answered "an engineer" she said, "that's what I want to do for a living when I grow up."

Like Barnes, Hafets is thrilled that the school was able to create a program that is blending science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an engaging and hands-on way. STEM activities at Burleigh Manor are growing. In fact, this year, the PTA established a STEM standing committee in coordination with the science department to support additional STEM activities and programs.

Congratulations to all the participants and winners of the first Burleigh Manor roller coaster project!

Looking for child care or a pre-school program information? Howard County's Department of Citizen Services, Office of Children's Services will host its annual preschool/child care information fair, "Children On Board," on Saturday, Jan. 21 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ten Oaks Ballroom, in Clarksville.

Billed as "one stop shopping" for pre-school and child care information, the event will give you an opportunity to meet teachers and program directors. Although admission is free, attendees are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item for donation to the Howard County Food Bank.

For more information about the Fair, call the Office of Children's Services at 410-313-1940 or email childcare@howardcountymd.gov.

For rock band lovers, catch a show this weekend by two local rock bands.

Alice Anna Band is headlining downtown Baltimore's Rams Head Live again Friday, Jan. 20. This local professional band has been getting rave reviews around the country. The band consists of Daniel Strauch (vocals, piano), Mike Marx (drums), Josh Jones (guitar), Hunter Schafer (bass), Scott Smith (guitar) — most of whom are Centennial High school alumni.

Although the doors open at 7 p.m. the band will most likely hit the stage around 11 p.m. Domino Falls will share the stage with the Alice Anna band while Violet Says 5, Stereo Trigger and Steel Chin Jimmy will open for the show.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online through http://www.ramsheadlive.com or picked them up at Rams Head Live box office. Or contact the band via email at aliceannamusic@gmail.com.

Local musician and Centennial High school sophomore Olivia Miller will be performing with her two bands, MRI and The Honey Badgers, at Nottingham's in Columbia Saturday, Jan. 21 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Millier's bands are two of the eight bands from Let There Be Rock School of Columbia that will be rocking out some Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS and other classic rock tunes. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for students.

Burleigh Manor Middle school eighth-grader student Taruna Emani stands in front of her winning roller coaster project — to design working roller coasters structures using the knowledge Newton's three laws of motion taught in her forces and motion science unit.