Popular physics experiment under fire.

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by California_Tanker, May 26, 2006.

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  1. Why on Earth didn't we have physics experiments like this when I was a lad? I know I'd have remembered my inertia formulae today if I had.


    Physics teacher under fire for gun experiment
    Parent's complaint raises issue about legality of stunt

    Every year, physics teacher David Lapp brings his Korean War era M-1 carbine to school, fires a shot into a block of wood and instructs his students to calculate the velocity of the bullet.

    It is a popular experiment at Mill Valley's Tamalpais High School, where students are exposed to several unique stunts that Lapp performs in his five classes every year to illustrate inertia, velocity and other complex formulae.

    Turns out, it also may be illegal.

    It is a felony to bring any rifle, loaded or unloaded, onto a school campus without the written permission of the school district superintendent or his designee, according to Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian.

    Actually firing a gun inside a classroom would, in all probability, be considered a "reckless discharge" and could bring about harsher punishment under Penal Code section 626.9, better known as the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995.

    The problem of guns in schools has been a particularly emotional issue, especially since two students went on a rampage and killed 15 people at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999.

    Through it all, though, the focus has always been on students with guns. Nobody expected teachers to bring firearms to school.

    "I'm hoping that this is not happening in Marin County," said Berberian, who groaned when informed that it was. "If he just did this in an open classroom with a block of wood, there could be ricochets. That in itself would be a presumption of recklessness."

    The rifle demonstration would not even be an issue if an anonymous parent had not complained.

    Lapp, a former military police officer who has been teaching for 20 years, said it is the first complaint ever lodged against the so-called "ballistic pendulum" experiment, which he contends is completely safe.

    The .30-caliber bullet, he said, is fired into a foot-long, 8-pound block of wood hanging by cords from a ceiling mount. The students take measurements of the block's movement and mass and use that information to calculate bullet speed.

    He said he fires the shot from point-blank range with all the students standing behind him, so there is no danger of an accident or ricochet. There has never been an injury or close call, he added.

    "I've been doing this for years," said Lapp, who skipped two or three years after Columbine. "The students love it. They ask about it very early on in the year. It's one of the more exciting demonstrations."

    Exciting is not the word, said Ted Feinberg, the assistant executive director for the National Association of School Psychologists.

    "It's just absolute madness, from my point of view," said Feinberg, one of the founding members of the National Emergency Assistance Team, which has responded to most of the school shootings in the country. "It is not only crazy in concept, in light of the world we live in it is absolutely irresponsible."

    Feinberg said he is shocked that a teacher would bring a gun to school in the wake of tragedies like Columbine, regardless of the educational purpose.

    "Were there not other ways of illustrating whatever physical principles he was trying to demonstrate?" Feinberg asked. "What's the message we are giving bringing a loaded gun into a public setting and firing it off. It's a terrible model to project on students."

    Lapp, who served in the Army from 1977 to 1980, became a teacher in 1986. He said he and the former Tamalpais High principal checked the legality of the experiment when he first started doing it around 1992 and determined that there were no laws against it. It has recently been done with the full written consent of Principal Chris Holleran.

    Although Bob Ferguson, the current superintendent of the Tamalpais Union High School District, was unaware of the experiment, both Lapp and Holleran said they believed the ballistic pendulum experiment was legal.

    "It is certainly something that one pauses about, but we felt that it was something that was OK because of the educational value," Holleran said. "Most students get a lot out of it. It's an interesting and dramatic example of physics in action."

    Holleran said school administrators and the district will review the legality of the experiment and immediately make changes if, in fact, what Lapp is doing is illegal.

    Unusual experiments are a hallmark of Lapp's five physics classes, two of which are honors courses. In addition to the ballistics test, Lapp also lies on a bed of nails and invites students to break a cinder block on his chest with a sledge hammer.

    "It's a demonstration of Newton's law of inertia," he said.

    In another experiment, Lapp cooks a steak in 15 seconds between two sheets of metal that are hooked up to a wall outlet.

    "If you were a senior in high school and you were wondering what the relevance of high school was, it would be much more authentic if you measured actual things, like the speed of a bullet," Lapp said. "It lends authenticity to a classroom."

    It is not clear what will happen now, but, Holleran said, if the school's approval of Lapp's experiment was a mistake, it was in an attempt to reach out in an innovative way to teenagers.

    "He's a terrific teacher who does a lot of wonderful things to bring physics to life," Holleran said. "The students really get a lot out of his class, so we provide him with a lot of latitude. We've never had complaints about (the ballistic pendulum experiment), and it has probably been done in front of 900 to 1,000 students over the years."


    Watch now, as the wheels of justice turn on this teacher. You'd think they didn't have any real criminals to chase after.

  2. All I got was the old Van de Graf generator.
  3. What terrifies me is the factually correct but no less casual reference to 'most of the school shootings in the country.'