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MSU St. Andrews Delivers Physics Lesson…with Skiis

Man skiing downhill on a sunny day

Each winter, students in grades five through eight at St. John’s Lutheran School in Midland go on an educational field trip – to ski! Their award-winning teacher, Mark Koschmann, leads STEM activities at the school and seeks out novel ways to help students discover science in everyday life. To solidify the science concepts he teaches, Mr. Koshchmann’s students actively participate in experiments, tests, and observations. The annual ski trip this year, for example, was augmented by a physics lesson with a guest speaker from Michigan State University St. Andrews in Midland.

Dr. Edmund Stark, a researcher from MSU St. Andrews, met with the children prior to this year’s ski trip to present “The Physics of Skiing.” His presentation helped alleviate the apprehension of the first-time skiers in the group, and the students were fascinated to learn that skiing well has everything to do with physics. As the students examined snowshoes, cross-country skis and downhill skis, Dr. Stark explained that each is designed based on the physics of how the wearer wants to move across the snow. All three spread your weight to keep you on top of the snow. Cross-country skis also help the skier glide in a straight path and grip the snow when stepping to allow the skier to go uphill. Downhill skis are designed for turning and maneuverability – all glide and no grip since the energy comes from the slope. As he talked, their excitement grew and so did their questions. “What if I can’t stop?” “What if I go too fast?” “Can I just stay on the bunny hill all day if I want?”

As the students passed around the skis and even took the chance to try them on, Dr. Stark explained how understanding edge angle, weighting and arcing would make them better skiers. He demonstrated how to ski and, more importantly, how NOT to.

Edmund Start demonstrating a pair of skiis

“Once you understand the physics, you will better understand how not to go faster than you want, how to stop when you want, and you may not even want to stay on that bunny hill all day,” Stark explained.

When the students took their ski trip a couple of days later, they were able to put this year’s physics lesson to the test.

Dr. Stark’s presentation was a great prelude to our ski trip this year,” said Mr. Koschmann. His physics lesson coupled with the skiing experience went a long way to promote student enthusiasm for learning.” A

Authored by: Deborah Cull, Midland, MI