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Physics is "phun"! (And "krazy")
May 25, 2006 12:04 AM   Subscribe

Is this guy an awesome teacher or just crazy? Or maybe it goes hand in hand. Think back to the days of high school and college science classes. For most people, it probably wasn't chalkboards full of endless physics equations that got them interested in the sciences, but rather the crazy, cooky and awe-inspiring professors who do dramatic and unique demonstrations to get students interested. What makes a good teacher or professor? Is this teacher really reckless or is it a legit demonstration that benefits students?
posted by RockBandit (65 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"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."

What a fucking whiner.
posted by atrazine at 12:13 AM on May 25, 2006


Mr. Wadell, greatest Physics teacher ever, had a classroom full of dramatic and unique demonstrations. He never fired a rifle in class, but I learned, and, to this day, I credit him for most of what I have become.

That's about it... I really just wanted to publically thank him for teaching me physics... and all without resorting to firing a rifle in class.
posted by SAC at 12:15 AM on May 25, 2006


My love of science and math also came from a slightly crazy physics teacher. His name was Mr. Trtek, and he was willing to go to all ends to teach me about physics. I spent the latter half of my senior year in high school working through the third book of the Feynman Lectures with him, and I think there's never been a point in my life where I learned more in a classroom setting than those few months.

Because of that time alone, I was able to hold down a job writing computational chemistry simulation software. If I he hadn't taken that time, I wouldn't have had the knowledge, and I wouldn't have had the interest. Instead, now I have a life-long love of science and learning.

He never fired a gun in school. I don't know if that's what it takes to reach kids. I do know that teaching should be more than just spitting out lessons onto a chalkboard, mindlessly grading assignments, and then walking away, which sums up the entire rest of my high school experience.

This guy, in the article, doesn't sound like some rogue crackpot. He had experience as a MP, he asked the principal, he used a reasonable weapon in a reasonable setting- and he probably engaged his kids. Let's not be so afraid of the world that we treat him like a crazy person just for trying to catch the flagging attention of some kids in what could otherwise be a tedious subject.
posted by thethirdman at 12:37 AM on May 25, 2006


The West isn't so wild any more.
posted by Cranberry at 12:52 AM on May 25, 2006


Hmm... I'm not totally sure that's completely safe. The wood could fragment and nail someone with high-velocity shards (particularly dargerous if someone didn't have eye protection.) This would probably produce only minor injuries, short of truly bad luck. The bullet could also deflect off the wood grain; it couldn't change course enough to turn around and shoot someone, but it cound turn enough to fly out the side and fragment something with dangerous shards, or fragment itself and nail someone with particulates. This could be more dangerous. It could also split the wood and continue out the other side, possibly continuing through the wall and nailing someone downrange.

Not to say that I think it's terrible dangerous, just that I think a backstop and a light blast shield woulud be advised.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:05 AM on May 25, 2006


A reckless discharge under the penal code? With kids present?

Real answer: I wouldn't want a teacher firing a gun in school with my kid in the building because I don't want the teacher to legitimate playing around with guns and because guns in school aren't safe, no matter how small the odds seem to be that someone will get hurt. ("This is a Glock 40. Fifty Cent, Too Short, all of them talk about a Glock 40, OK? I'm the only one in this room professional enough that I know of to carry this Glock 40.") Use some other way to teach that lesson. Or if firing a gun is somehow necessary, take the kids to where the demonstration is more appropriate. A firing range, perhaps.

Or how about video of idiots trying to outrun the police in cars and dying in accidents. They watch that crap on TV anyway. Tell them to calculate the velocity of the car hitting the tree and the velocity of the bodies flying out of the car.

Or show them the Zapruder film, frame by frame. Calculate the velocity of those bullets.
posted by pracowity at 1:22 AM on May 25, 2006


I remember my physics teacher demonstrated the same experiment when I was about 14. I think it was a .22 which he fired into a huge plasticine/wood target on a an air track. We were then shown how to calculate the velocity of the bullet.

Of course this was 20 years ago when you could still do things like that. He would be arrrested on site if he tried it nowadays. Shame, it was a great way to generate real interest in Newtonian mechanics among 14 year old kids.
posted by bap98189 at 1:33 AM on May 25, 2006


" I do know that teaching should be more than just spitting out lessons onto a chalkboard, mindlessly grading assignments, and then walking away, which sums up the entire rest of my high school experience."
thethirdman


Here-here.
posted by Radio7 at 1:58 AM on May 25, 2006


The guy sounds like a great teacher with somewhat poor judgement.

I too had a science teacher that sparked an interest in science that is still with me 40 years later....interestingly enough he DID involve guns...but not in school. He used to pick me up early on weekend mornings to take me hunting (my own dad died when I was 6 months old, this guy stood in for many years!) Thanks, Mr. Owens!
posted by HuronBob at 2:49 AM on May 25, 2006


At least he didn't fire it straight up...One of my A Level maths textbooks had a question about bullet trajectories/momentum, with a nice little diagram of an AK-47. As for cool physics demonstrations, I like the bottle rocket. Of course, our teacher only realised we should do it OUTside after we had punched a hole in the ceiling...
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:09 AM on May 25, 2006


In college I volunteered for the bit where I lay on the bed of nails, had another nail-bed board laid on top of me, and a physics TA broke a cinderblock on top of all that. Hell, I even got a date out of it and got laid!
posted by pax digita at 3:22 AM on May 25, 2006


My A level Chemistry teacher taught us how to make beer...
posted by ibanda at 4:11 AM on May 25, 2006


My chemistry teacher, Mr. Davies, opened class by taking a beaker of concentrated hydrochloric acid and another of concentrated sodium hydroxide, demonstating how corrosive each was separately, then mixing the two together and drinking them (combined they make salt water). Impressive.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:44 AM on May 25, 2006


Quote from article:

"Were there not other ways of illustrating whatever physical principles he was trying to demonstrate?" Feinberg asked.


From my memory of high school physics, no. While I didn't have a teacher who fired a gun into a block of wood, I remember that every second example/exam question on Newtonian physics and kinetic energy seemed involve the hypothetical firing of a bullet into a large block of wood.

"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."

Yeah, it's all about the message. Not about the day in physics class you'll never forget. God help us in anyone would have a memorable day, anywhere, for anything.
posted by bright cold day at 4:46 AM on May 25, 2006


I had a physics professor in college who loved this stuff. Some was just fun, he would aim a tennis ball launcher at a stuffed animal (monkey) hanging from the ceiling and then fire the launcher and drop the monkey simultaneously for a perfect hit, thus illustrating the effects of gravity. His most impressive trick was charging a car battery sized capacitor with a van de Graaf generator and then, in a darkened room, discharging it with a pitchfork like device with a 15 foot handle. The noise was like an M80 going off, very impressive. No one skipped physics lecture.
posted by caddis at 5:19 AM on May 25, 2006


God help us in anyone would have a memorable day, anywhere, for anything.

It's not as if there's no way to make a memorable day in physics class but to fire off a gun.

Not that the firing of a gun wouldn't penetrate a few skulls, so to speak, but there is teaching and there is shooting, and shooting a gun won't teach kids anything if the teaching is not good, while good teaching, even without rifle fire, has been known to convey an idea or two. A smart teacher will find an interesting way to teach without resorting to gunfire.
posted by pracowity at 5:43 AM on May 25, 2006


The gun isn't necessary. I was a science teacher for 10 years, and there are many other things you can do to demonstrate the same notions without pandering to the adolescent affection for explosive projectile weapons that pervades our society.
posted by Peach at 6:12 AM on May 25, 2006


Oh my god, I just realized that my high school chemistry class used actual chemicals that, when combined in the correct manner, could become acid or could explode! We should take steps to immediately remove all dangerous chemicals from the class room!

Oh my god! My drivers ed class used actual cars! They could be used to run over someone! They have to go!

Oh my god! There are SHARP PENCILS being used! Do you know how dangerous those are? Remove them immediately!

Oh my god! SCISSORS in ART CLASS? INSANITY!
posted by tadellin at 6:14 AM on May 25, 2006 [2 favorites]


Some was just fun, he would aim a tennis ball launcher at a stuffed animal (monkey) hanging from the ceiling and then fire the launcher and drop the monkey simultaneously for a perfect hit, thus illustrating the effects of gravity.
Ha! I remember that experiment! Poor sad old monkey...
posted by kickingtheground at 6:16 AM on May 25, 2006


Jesus, you are all so quick to judge the man. He clearly knew what he was doing, he managed the risk, the kids got something out of it.

Kill the holier-than-thou attitude, please.
posted by virga at 6:27 AM on May 25, 2006


That demo sounds great; it's exactly like every momentum transfer problem in any textbook; and tons of them ask you to calculate exactly that, the displacement of the block given a bullet's velocity The hallmark of a good demo isn't that you look at it and are amazed, it's that you're amazed and then gain an intuitive explanation of the physics, and this seems tailormade to suit that. A friend of mine had the job recently of reviewing all the old tapes of physics 101, and noting what was taught and the demos used. He noticed that the rocket motion demo, which was a student sitting on a skateboard powered by a CO2 fire extinguisher, proceeded happily until the year the student ran her head into a table. The next year? Helmets.
posted by apathy0o0 at 6:31 AM on May 25, 2006


RIP, public schools.
posted by dead_ at 6:41 AM on May 25, 2006


He's an awesome teacher. The anonymous parent is a whiner.

Pretty straight forward, really.
posted by Crash at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2006


Hey, that's my high school! I was there only a couple of years ago. Mr. Godfrey was a cooler science teacher (right up through when he quit and rode off on his motorcycle) though. The school in question is very respectable and right in the middle of a very affluent community. They were always pretty careful about safety concerns and students' needs (not to mention the parents tended to be more involved than in other high schools I've seen) so I don't think there was anything bad going on here. Of course, the complaint was also filed by a parent. 99% chance it was an overprotective mom who caught wind of it from her freshman student who wildly exaggerated the demonstration based on what he/she heard from someone else. I've never seen the demonstration myself, but I know most of the faculty at the school is pretty responsible.

Bob Ferguson (the superintendent, who I also have experience with *cough*) claims to not have known this was happening. Yeah, right. Just trying to keep the flames away from his butt now that somebody has gotten themself upset over this.

Anyway, it was a cool school while I was there. Really awesome drama department. The campus is on the side of a hill. Almost no two buildings are level with each other, so there's a lot of vertical traveling between classes. Off-campus lunches and tons of stuff within walking distance were also nice perks.
posted by tumult at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2006


We did that in our Physics class, but using an air rifle. Funny how school life was both stricter and much more relaxed in those far-off days.
posted by Decani at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2006


tadellin has the idea.

Imagine if this was the attitude in the 1800's America. No one would be allowed to cross the prarie in a covered wagon, because it simply was not safe.

The safety obsessed people should be put in padded cells, all nice and safe, and forgotten. Let the rest of us grab life by the balls, choosing our own risks.

So he brought a gun to class. It's a gun, not a grenade with the pin pulled. It behaves exactly like a gun. If that puts your knickers in a twist, tough shit. Go take a Xanax and watch some teevee.
posted by Goofyy at 7:03 AM on May 25, 2006


I almost forgot about this one. Here's how badly this school district is forced to bend to the whims of 'outraged' people: this same school, with the near-vertical campus I just described, once had a wheelchair-bound student. Said wheelchair-student (I'm not going to name names here, but I swear on my life this is a true story from only 4 or so years ago) obviously had some trouble getting around the campus, though every area WAS accessible and in compliance with local ordinances.

The problem was that this student's friends hung out in this one area behind the woodshop building during lunch hour, and it took a long time to get there -- he had to go up and around several buildings due to the fact that stairs were used on the most direct path.

This, of course, was unacceptable. His lunch time was being cut short because it took so long to get where his friends were! So he lodged a complaint. And the whole issue got more and more heated. Eventually, he won and the board forced the school to bend to his will. A truly epic construction project was undertaken on the campus: because of the way the campus is located on a hill, a giant spiral ramp thing was needed to get the proper height while still maintaining the steepness necessary for wheelchair travel. So huge amounts of concrete and other stuff were poured.

I can't really convey the size of this construction project. Lots of the campus was roped off for a long period of time. When it was all said and done, it looked like the landing pad for some alien spacecraft -- a giant spiral concrete ramp, the majority of it an empty, flat circle.

And he had left the school by then.

Am I bitter? You bet.

And some people wonder why California spends so much on education, with so little return.

If nobody believes me, I'll drive there and take a picture myself this weekend.
posted by tumult at 7:04 AM on May 25, 2006


The gun isn't necessary, but it is cool.

Dr. Stoner was my freshman physics teacher. That was, indeed, his real name.

We spent most of the semester calculating various tragectories to hit the guy in the back of the class who asked about "Avocado's Law."
posted by ph00dz at 7:05 AM on May 25, 2006


virga: Kill the holier-than-thou attitude, please.

And as usual, the discussion proceeds with everyone urinating in the thread to mark their rhetorical turf in this battle.

This isn't a black or white issue. There are various stakeholders in this who have various interests that can be strongly argued. Just off the top of my head:

Municipal governments: Because many contemporary firearms have enough power to go though windows and drywall, some municipal governments treat any discharge of a firearm outside of a licenced facility to be a potential danger and a citable offense.

School administration: First, they have an interest in reducing potential liability risks. Second many school districts have adopted zero-tolerance approaches to weapons on school grounds.

Parents: Not all parents would agree that this is an acceptable use of a firearm or the best way to give this kind of demonstration. I grew up with sport rifles in the house and given a healthy paranoia about when and how they should be used. Given the layout and location of most schools, I would be concerned.

Teachers: Want to give effective and memorable demonstrations, while protecting the safety of their students.

Students: Are learning whether we want them to or not. (What they learn is another question.)

It is possible to agree that this teacher knew what he was doing, managed the risks, and made an effective demonstration, and still disagree that using firearms in a school is a good idea.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:12 AM on May 25, 2006


Weapon focus. There's no surer way to make sure that every eye is on you in the classroom than to have a weapon. Or does that mean they'll be paying more attention to the weapon than the lesson?

At any rate, it seems like panty-bunching by anti-gun people who are more appalled at kids being shown guns than any possible safety concern (which seems minimal).

Did you know that the amygdala is thought to contribute both to the feeling of fear as well as the recording of memory? Fear makes for good recall, and for good reason evolutionarily. I'm willing to bet these kids were engaged and learning. Hot damn!

There are other ways to make physics class interesting, to be sure, but it seems here that the reaction is more of a kneejerk "no guns!" reaction than a reasonable objection. Because parents would prefer that the only exposure most high school kids have to a gun is when it's pointed at them by a peer, rather than in the hands of a competent instructor.
posted by Eideteker at 7:14 AM on May 25, 2006


Students respond to anything smacking of rebellion. I went to a rather uptight private school, and the best teachers were those which recognized this and used it to grab our attention.

Even little things worked. I also had a rather insane physics teacher who would frequently run out of room on the (then new) whiteboard and simply continue extrapolating up over the board and onto the wall. The janitors must have had a fit with this guy. It was enough for us to remember the lesson and get interested and excited about things.

The point here is to push boundaries. Yes this might be some bad judgement by a good teacher, but as the school themselves pointed out he's a great teacher who deserves a bit of latitude.

The situations where we prefer safety over excitement/vitality/fun etc are often new or unfamiliar situations - like this one. Truth is, driving a car to a more appropriate place like a range might be more dangerous in that it involves cars. Cars, however, are socially accepted. Same for something like ski trips. People injure themselves and die all the time on school trips, but we still do them because of the benefits and because they're normal and accepted things for schools to do.

People are more afraid of the strange and unknown than they are of the true risk involved.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:24 AM on May 25, 2006


That really sucks about Randall Fargus.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 7:28 AM on May 25, 2006


No discussion of crazy physics lessons is complete without a mention of Julius Sumner Miller.

As far as the gun goes...there are a thousand ways for students to hurt or kill themselves in a laboratory. The key is control, and a gun isn't particularly more or less controllable than the other risks, I think.
posted by solotoro at 7:29 AM on May 25, 2006


Goofy: The safety obsessed people should be put in padded cells, all nice and safe, and forgotten. Let the rest of us grab life by the balls, choosing our own risks.

Except of course that when you discharge a firearm you are not just putting yourself at risk, you are putting everyone downrange at risk. This could be a meter, it could be a kilometer. If you want to ride a motorcycle in shorts without a helmet, that's cool. Basejump off tall buldings, awesome. Eat blowfish, really really awesome. If you want to discharge a firearm in my neighborhood, please haul your ass to local gun club where "downrange" means the foundation of a very substantial building.

Eideteker: Because parents would prefer that the only exposure most high school kids have to a gun is when it's pointed at them by a peer, rather than in the hands of a competent instructor.

My competent instructors didn't demonstrate the discharge of firearms away from a range. I was quite fond of target shooting as a kid, hope to be again, and I find "no guns" in school settings to be a perfectly reasonable objection. Unless of course that school has a well constructed range and certified range managers for this sort of thing.

It is possible to have concerns about this kind of deminstration, without being anti-gun as well.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:33 AM on May 25, 2006


I had an insane chemistry teacher and a boring physics teacher. Despite the fact that I'm more inclined towards physics, I know chemistry far better just from my classes.

Suggestion: someone (justifiably in my opinion) mentioned the possibility of the wood splintering and someone getting hurt. What about gluing a 3-inch thick block of cork to the front of the wood block and handing out safety goggles from the lab? Seems like those two precautions would solve the problem quite neatly.
posted by Ryvar at 7:36 AM on May 25, 2006


This seems to be a bit of a crazy high school teacher recollection thread, so here goes:

The one slightly risque thing a teacher of mine ever did was smoke a cigarette in the classroom to illustrate diffusion. Or was it dispersion. Anyhow, he claimed he bummed it off some kid in the bathroom. Thanks, Mr. Black!
posted by heydanno at 7:37 AM on May 25, 2006


I feel for kids growing up now, everything's so sterilized and safety-padded. When I was in junior high, it was perfectly acceptable to bring guns to school on the bus, drop them off at the principal's office when you got there, pick the gun up after school and go hunting. Then again, I grew up in a very rural area and this was about 20 years ago.

Times have changed, and not always for the better. Heck, I can remember one morning on the bus, two boys got in a fight. One boy had brought a hunting rifle to school that day and carefully handed it to his friend before proceeding to beat the daylights out of the other boy. It never occurred to any of us to use the gun as a threat. This was just a fight, not a reason to kill anybody.
posted by teleri025 at 7:49 AM on May 25, 2006


Best one from my chem teacher - mixed alcohol and water 50:50 (I think that's the right proportion) before the class started. We all file in and he starts lecturing us from his desk, under which was the pail of the mixture. About 10 minutes into the intentionally snooze-worthy lecture, he dips his hand in under the desk where we can't see, then lights his hand with a lighter and all of a sudden brings it out from under the desk while shrieking at the top of his lungs, all holding it with his other hand like the burning hand is trying to attack his face.

Two kids in my class fell over backwards in their chairs and one actually passed out. Best teacher I've ever had.

My other great chem teacher did this one experiment to demonstrate the negative slope of the liquid/solid state line on a temperature v. pressure graph. Brings in a normal 1 liter water bottle from the store, which sits in a tub of dry ice throughout the first twenty minutes of the lecture while he explains the implications of the slope. Then he puts on some gloves, holds up the water bottle to show us that it's still liquid because it's sealed and the pressure can't change. He unscrews the cap, and the water turns to ice in a wave rising from the bottom to the top. Weirdest thing.
posted by Ryvar at 7:52 AM on May 25, 2006


I just want to say that I found a good chalkboard presentation to be much more enjoyable than the demonstrations. Any idiot can fire a rifle into a block of wood, but explaining the shit elegantly takes skill, and the takeaway is much greater IMO.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:00 AM on May 25, 2006


I didn't have cool teachers, but I was the product of a really, really bad school district.

The best story I have is that in fourth grade I got to hold about a pint and a half of mercury. If 2 Tbsp = 1 lb, then that's 24 lbs. I weighted about 60 lbs. back then. It was frikkin' heavy.

Oh, and it was in a jar. Years before they used to have fourth graders make their own barometers. Then they realized that mercury was poisonous and the jar went on the shelf. I hope they got hazmat team in there to remove it, but I imagine it's still sitting on that storage room shelf.
posted by dw at 8:10 AM on May 25, 2006


This is being done indoors. With no eye protection. This is stupid. Getting some basic permission, eyewear, and doing this outdoors in a safe manner isn't too much to ask. What's with gun nuts and their hatred of basic firearm safety?
posted by skallas at 8:12 AM on May 25, 2006


My history teacher back in the day had a deactivated World War I vintage Lee Enfield Mark I .303 rifle in the corner of the room. If you pissed about in his lessons you'd be forced to hold it out at arm's length in front of the class. I was never certain whether my massive forearms in my teenage years were related to this or er... um... well, you know.

Strangely enough he was probably my favourite teacher.
posted by longbaugh at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2006


skallas: What's with gun nuts and their hatred of basic firearm safety?

I was taught by gun nuts. Took the NRA hunter safety course back in the day.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 AM on May 25, 2006


KirkJobSluder: you don't think riding a motorcycle on public roads or base jumping from a public building with pedestrians below puts others at risk?

In physics, we used lasers powerful enough to make a person blind. In Biology, we used scapels regularly. In Chem, we had access to acid. And don't get me started on the dangers of gym class.

A teacher educated in firearms bringing a low caliber gun to class, with written permission from the principal, to conduct an experiment that gets his students interested in the subject and will never be forgotten is not the most dangerous thing your kid will be exposed to in school. It just involves guns, so people freak out.
posted by Crash at 8:30 AM on May 25, 2006


While I'm not the biggest fan of teaching via television... if there's such a parent-uproar about this, why can't he make a videotape of himself firing the gun into the piece of wood and ask students to make calculations from the tape? He could still bring the gun to class to show it off (unloaded), but then there's no real safety hazard.

It is admittedly less awesome, but it seems like a pretty reasonable and logical compromise.

I guess it would seriously harm his cred as "crazy physics teacher" though.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:56 AM on May 25, 2006


Sounds like this guy's doing his job, if you ask me. As opposed to just having the kids sit there and read from some Texas School Board approved textbook that reads "While the effects of gravity are well-known, it should be pointed out that the alternative explanation - God's hand pressing down on the Earth - is still widely accepted by many leading scientists - who will NOT be spending eternity burning in the fires of hell"
posted by slatternus at 8:58 AM on May 25, 2006


I hope the teacher accepts that whatever opinions on the safety or sanity of this, it is illegal so he really can't do it any more. I hope that the district and authorities accept that there was no malice, intent or harm in his actions to date and don't try to punish him for his questionable judgement. And I hope the teacher finds another way to do a similar demonstration that is within the law. I can see how a kind of old school science guy could justify this, and I'm sure the kids found it very cool and it was probably as safe as many things that go on at school. But you just can't do that kind of thing these days.
posted by nanojath at 9:07 AM on May 25, 2006


Field trip to the range?
posted by Ryvar at 9:15 AM on May 25, 2006


Crash: you don't think riding a motorcycle on public roads or base jumping from a public building with pedestrians below puts others at risk?

Certainly. And there are 1: ways to mitigate those risks. 2: insurance policies and legal frameworks to define who is responsible should a third party get hurt.

In regards to #1, I was taught (by NRA instructors BTW) that discharging even a low-caliber weapon should be done with extreme caution, and one of the ways to mitigate that risk is to do so in highly controlled environments.

With the operation of a motocycle, governments take an active interest in regulating how and where you can ride because of the safety issues involved. Governments also regulate how and where you can discharge a firearm within city limits because of the safety issues involved. Why is the former reasonable, and the latter "freaking out?"

In regards to #2, if the safety procedures taken are not enough, who pays? The school system (and as a result, tax payers) will probably assume some of the liability. If the school system can be held legally liable, why is it unreasonable for it to make decisions about the kinds of liability risks it is willing to take?

In physics, we used lasers powerful enough to make a person blind. In Biology, we used scapels regularly. In Chem, we had access to acid. And don't get me started on the dangers of gym class.

Certainly, and in all of those cases, school systems make choices about reasonable risks, and have equipment on hand to mitigate those risks. As I sad above, if the school system in question had a dedicated fireing range and staff, I'd have no objections. (And FTR, I worked youth camps that had both.)

A teacher educated in firearms bringing a low caliber gun to class, with written permission from the principal, to conduct an experiment that gets his students interested in the subject and will never be forgotten is not the most dangerous thing your kid will be exposed to in school. It just involves guns, so people freak out.

Yes, yes. I, as someone educated in firearms, and a former recreational target shooter, am "freaking out" because I believe that schools (in general) don't have the resources and expertise to properly conduct experiments using live firearms. And for thinking that laws regarding the discharge of firearms within urban and suburban areas is a good idea.

Perhaps this particular teacher is exceptional. But exceptional cases make for bad general policy and law. I know that for every former MP teacher, there is going to be a score of suburban nuts who think that the 1m-wide tree in their back yard is sufficient for target practice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:22 AM on May 25, 2006


Isn't firing a weapon indoors, in a crowded building... what's the word I'm looking for...

RETARDED. No matter how you cut it?

Are you guys seriously trying to justify this? All it would take is for one of the students to bump into the teacher as he fires to send a round through the wall, and any student on the other side.

I had a physics teacher who let us bring in our potato cannons to calculate the muzzle velocity. He let us give rides on our homemade hovercraft. He was also a great teacher, and he also took us OUTSIDE to do these things.
posted by butterstick at 9:44 AM on May 25, 2006


When Mr. Lapp did this demonstration in front of me in 1992 we asked him if he had permission to have/fire the gun. His answer was "Questions I know the answer to I don't need to ask".

He handled the gun in a very safe manner, kept it locked up and unloaded when not in use. Nobody informed the administration, and I think that most kids knew to not tell their parents. I'm quite surprised that it's taken this long for the administration to find out.

I see why it's illegal, and I do think that he probably shouldn't be doing it. Ideally he'd do a field trip to the rifle range near San Quentin (a 15 minute drive) and do the demonstration there. Too many risks with a loaded gun in a classroom full of kids.

When I attended Tam we had some of the best teachers I've ever had in the science and history departments. Mr. Lapp was certainly among them. I think we were the first class to work with him on printing up the "Physics is Phun" pins that everybody got.

The story above about the wheelchair ramp is indeed indicative of the mentality there. Our school mascot was originally the Indian, but about 5 people were offended by it. So, votes were taken and the Indian still won. So, we voted again. Still the Indian won. And Again. Same outcome. Eventually the school board decided that they would simply decided that we wouldn't be allowed to choose-they would decide for us. Thus, the Red Tail Hawk was assigned as the new mascot. I think I still have my yearbook with the 2 page skeletal hawk drawing in it.

/reminisce
posted by Four Flavors at 10:09 AM on May 25, 2006


i think this is completely fine. in fact, its better than that. its a PRIME example of excellent teaching skills. we live in the "ADHD" generation. as much bullshit as i think this is, i DO understand that it takes a lot to grasp a student's attention and hold it.

my teach for my junior year physics class did something similar to this on several occaisions. the first one was where he came in hung over, and decided to demonstrate pressure waves to us by lighting up a cigarette in class, blowing the smoke into this box contraption, and using it to send smoke rings through the air.

later that year he brought in a full blown potato gun and fired it out the window. anyone who knows ANYTHING about potato guns knows these things aren't exactly safe. its basically a PVC tube which rockets a potato out of it at ballistic speeds by use of explosive force.
...i actually think he actually might have hit a truck with it.

my favorite teacher was my biology professor my sennior year of high school. he didn't do anything startling so much as he had a personality which could barely be contained, and he didn't take shit from anyone. he even made us coffee for classes.

I'm NO advocate for the NRA, but i do know ballistics fairly well, and i feel this is pretty safe by most standards. especially with an ex-military man doing the shooting. i do agree it would have been better to do it outside though...
posted by Doorstop at 10:14 AM on May 25, 2006


Reading the article, it appears that it may or may not be illegal. There's not much of a chance that he'll be allowed to do it again, I'd wager.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2006


My AP chemistry teacher used to coat the floor of her classroom with nitrogen triiodide once a year.

The school made her stop after my class graduated, why? It stains the floor.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:15 AM on May 25, 2006


As awesome as this sounds, it still boils down to a gun in a classroom with lots of kids. I'm not exactly the biggest fan of "no-tolerance" policies, but I can see where a parent might have a small problem with this. Hell, my parents would have a problem with it, and they're pretty free-going with this sort of thing. That said, if I was a student in that class, I'd be stoked!

Speaking of crazy teachers: I had a Chemistry professor in college who liked to set off thermite bombs in the classroom and otherwise blow shit up and set things on fire.
posted by sperose at 10:23 AM on May 25, 2006


KirkJobSluder:
Only the first sentence of my post was in response to you, addressing your comment "Except of course that when you discharge a firearm you are not just putting yourself at risk, you are putting everyone downrange at risk. This could be a meter, it could be a kilometer. If you want to ride a motorcycle in shorts without a helmet, that's cool. Basejump off tall buldings, awesome. Eat blowfish, really really awesome. If you want to discharge a firearm in my neighborhood, please haul your ass to local gun club where "downrange" means the foundation of a very substantial building."

I read that as discharging a firearm endangers those around you, but basejumping and motorcycles only endanger yourself. They all entail risks to those around you, with motorcycles probably the most likely to cause injury. Also, at least in the case of base jumping, it's clearly illegal (in the US, anyway), but you said it's awesome. Why the issue with guns in a controlled manor? And sorry if you felt I was implying it was you that was freaking out (I can see how it could be read that way), but I was referring to the anonymous parent who reported it. (You're not the anonymous parent, right?)

My point about the scapels, acid, lasers, etc... was that there's plenty of ways these risks can be avoided. Students can just take the teacher's word on what happens when a laser is fired or chemicals are mixed together. Disections really only need to be done once in front of a camera, and physics experiments can be reduced to simple calculations. For example, the bullet demonstration could be something as simple as a 0.1 kg mass hits a stationary 20kg mass and moves it 0.5m straight up, please calculate the speed of the 0.1 kg mass. That's really all the students need to know, but it's not likely to engage them or stick with them after the class is over. Instead, teacher's strive to find ways to make the subject matter "real" to their students, and this is one example. I don't understand why the risks involved in this experiment are singled out. I only see three possibilities:

1. A person believe the situation is much more dangerous than exposing students to acid and scapels.
2.It's a "gateway" to larger issues. Students will see that teachers can bring guns to school, so why shouldn't they? Perhaps the teachers' union will demand they be allowed to fire weapons without seeking written permission.
3. It involves guns, so it must be bad.

I disagree with all three. If I'm overlooking other reasons, I'd like to hear them. If the courts say it's illegal, he should stop, but until then I think he's doing an awesome job.
posted by Crash at 12:03 PM on May 25, 2006


Wow. Amazing. Gosh, imagine what would happened if he said "Condoleezza Rice" and "watermelon" in the same sentence during physics class. The outrage!
posted by drstein at 12:04 PM on May 25, 2006



Oh my god, I just realized that my high school chemistry class used actual chemicals that, when combined in the correct manner, could become acid or could explode! We should take steps to immediately remove all dangerous chemicals from the class room!

Oh my god! My drivers ed class used actual cars! They could be used to run over someone! They have to go!

Oh my god! There are SHARP PENCILS being used! Do you know how dangerous those are? Remove them immediately!

Oh my god! SCISSORS in ART CLASS? INSANITY!
posted by tadellin at 6:14 AM PST on May 25 [+fave] [!]


You haven't gone to high school recently, have you? At my high school all of those issues were addressed in some form. Because of liability most chemicals that were commonplace in chemistry classes of yesteryear underwent tight regulation and were only used in AP classes, the high school no longer taught driver's ed, all real scissors had been replaced by those crappy safe-scissors that couldn't cut butter, and you could get suspended for threatening someone with a sharp pencil.

Damned liability.
posted by Ndwright at 4:06 PM on May 25, 2006


Crash: I read that as discharging a firearm endangers those around you, but basejumping and motorcycles only endanger yourself. They all entail risks to those around you, with motorcycles probably the most likely to cause injury. Also, at least in the case of base jumping, it's clearly illegal (in the US, anyway), but you said it's awesome. Why the issue with guns in a controlled manor? Why the issue with guns in a controlled manor?

As I've said multiple times before, if the school in question has the resources to put in the proper facilities for this sort of thing, I don't have a problem with it. Most school systems don't provide drivers education, much less motorcycle certification either these days.

Let me put it this way, would you feel comfortable if your neighbor set up target practice in his back yard using a bale of straw as a backdrop? Would you not agree that discharging a firearm in an urban neighborhood significantly raises the risks of injury?

1. A person believe the situation is much more dangerous than exposing students to acid and scapels.

Well, to me this seems like a no-brainer. Most teachers use concentrations of acids little stronger than what students eat in the cafeteria, lasers so dim that the warning is predominantly hypothetical, and scalpels so short that it would take quite a bit of work to do serious damage. Even a weak .22 rifle round has a range of over a quarter mile, and can be lethal certainly within the distances covered by a school campus.

First rule of gun safety: Every firearm is a potentially lethal weapon and should be treated as such.

2.It's a "gateway" to larger issues. Students will see that teachers can bring guns to school, so why shouldn't they? Perhaps the teachers' union will demand they be allowed to fire weapons without seeking written permission.

This is certainly the case here in that this type of demonstration is modeling bad practice in regards to gun safety. You want to discharge a firearm, you go to a place where you can control who and what might be downrange of your barrel. End of discussion as far as I'm concerned.

3. It involves guns, so it must be bad.

NRA-sponsored gun safety curriculum I was given as a teen, agrees that all firearms are lethal weapons and should always be handled with extreme levels of caution. You should always assume that the gun will kill anything in front of the barrel, and you shouldn't assume that a round won't penetrate the wall you are facing. This was the National Rifle Association we are talking about here. When advocates for firearms ownership insist that firearms should be handled extreme levels of caution, then don't you think that there are serious safety issues that must be considered?

Which is my point on this. It is possible to support firearm ownership, and still believe that firearms need to be treated in a very different way than we treat knives, scissors, low-power lasers, and dilute acids.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:37 PM on May 25, 2006


In an age where schools no longer have trampolines, or even gymnastics horses; no longer have jungle gyms; no longer play dodgeball... well, I suppose this cool physics teacher will no longer have a job.

Whatever happened to survival of the fittest?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:18 PM on May 25, 2006


I was sitting here thinking, well, my high school never had any of this. Then I remembered that my high school had a rifle range (inside the building!). Even better, it was closed because of asbestos issues, IIRC.

I graduated high school three years ago, and I think a lot of this stuff changed over the course of my years in school; when I was in elementary school, we did indeed have trampolines and balance beams and gymnastics horses in gym. I remember rings that hung from the ceiling and ropes, too. I am sure that the kids who attend my old school nowadays don't get to enjoy this sort of thing. I bet they don't get to lie on a bed of nails, either, as we did in sixth-grade science. I wonder if they even get to use scissors in art class.
posted by anjamu at 10:25 PM on May 25, 2006


My physics teacher used to have blocks broken on his chest while lying on a bed of nails.

My chemistry teacher started a thermit reaction in a flower pot that burnt a hole through the concrete of the senior patio. He also blew up an Erlenmyer flask by adding water to some potassium metal. He pointed out to us that he was learning lessons along with the class. (He also showed us Lust in the Dust on the last day of class.)

I went to an expensive rich kid's prep school, though. Heaven forbid that we teach regular kids that the world operates according to easily understood, predictable physical laws. They might rise up or something.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:56 AM on May 26, 2006


The days of trampolines and gymnastics horses and jungle gyms and dodgeball and dangerous chemicals and all that will all return on the day courts stop awarding parents heaps of dollars for broken arms and legs. Don't blame schools for trying to avoid bankruptcy.
posted by pracowity at 2:58 AM on May 26, 2006


I was going to say something like "off-the-wall teachers are, indeed, totally awesome unless they go a bit too strange and start genuinely endangering their students", but then I realised that genuinely endangering your students actually makes a teacher more awesome than you can possibly imagine.

Sure, it may scare the shit out of you at the time when the Medieval Day demonstration guy chains eight of you together by the neck (for no immediately visible reason, since imprisonment and/or slavery and/or whatever the hell he was talking about weren't meant to be on the curriculum) and whacks the chain between two of you with a stick to show how effective a discipline technique it was. But later on you will either think it was awesome or be a miserable pussy, and all of the onlookers will find their own perception of its awesomeness only sweetened by the tantalising terror that they may find themselves part of the next demonstration, since he hasn't done anything with that padded helmet and war maul yet.

(The only reason I don't remember whatever the neck-chaining message was meant to be is that that particular guy didn't do that particular thing at my school that year. He did dress me up in chainmail, give me a wooden sword and make me run an obstacle course while screaming at me, thereby impressing firmly upon me the fact that all that shit ain't that heavy any more when you're good and scared.)

That particular guy got taken off the high-school-demonstration circuit before anyone got... badly... maimed or killed, 'cos he was definitely headed that way. Shame.

He had a small black powder cannon that he fired indoors, but he only loaded it with a plasticine cannonball. It occurs to me that shooting one of those into a big wooden box filled with a block of polystyrene foam, or similar, would give you a nice cheap inelastic collision. You could avoid setting off all the smoke detectors by using guncotton as propellant. Or, as Decani mentioned, use an air rifle; a small potato-cannon sort of thing could be the best of both worlds.

(I am suddenly filled with a burning urge to shoot things into buckets filled with dilatent compound. Another peripherally related self-link; mercury cleanup is easy {second letter}, if annoying.)

The real limitations for a lot of this stuff are, of course, not safety but time and money. All kinds of awesome SLOM-type demonstrations are quite easy to make happen - get unregisterable wreck of a car, jack it up, remove wheels, stand on accelerator and brake at same time, graphically demonstrate kinetic energy being converted to heat as whole brake assembly glows orange and welds together - but there isn't the time or money to make them happen. Taking a rifle into the classroom, in parts of the world where rifles are common property (a teacher who tries that shit here in Australia will utterly certainly never work again; then again, I don't know one person who's had a bullet unexpectedly come through the wall) is quick and cheap and simple.

And, I agree, it can be safe enough, by the standards applied to the various other kinds of science class that other posters have mentioned. The linked articles suggest that this guy did not take adequate precautions to avoid shooting anyone (with bullet, bits of bullet, bits of wood, bits of cinder block, bits of previous victims of bullet...), but info about this kind of stuff always gets garbled, so I dunno. A normal 7.62x33 is only about a thousand-joule round, versus the 3600-odd joules of the 30-06 fired by the "full" M1, so safety wouldn't be as big a challenge as you might think. The carbine round still comfortably beats all of the non-steroidal pistol cartridges, though. So I still think something like a primer-only "gallery load", or a .22 cap round, or something, would be more sensible. But what do I know.

The most impressive demonstrations managed by any of my regular teachers at my high-achieving but generally quite crappy high school were one not very educational but very cool burning-magnesium-pencil-sharpener (dumped out of the window when it became unmanageably smoky, coincidentally in front of the Principal, as I recall), and one indoor thermite demonstration with rather too much thermite in it, which resulted in the usual hasty evacuation of the room.

Thanks, Mr Ballantyne! But your home page sucks!
posted by dansdata at 11:58 AM on May 26, 2006


I am not completely anti-gun, though I hate having them in the city and in the possession of the twelve-year-olds who are dealing drugs outside my house, or of the drunken twerps who wave them around in the street at 2:00 in the morning when I'm trying to sleep. I do bring swords into my (private school) classroom (I am a fencer, and I've won quite a number of sharp swords) and I threaten my students with dismemberment on a regular basis in order to reassure them :) (they understand me). I make them do pushups when they're late and I do them myself. I've done demos with potato guns, acid, foaming chemicals, flame, and many other things. SCREW people who call my objecting to regular guns in the classroom political correctness: I teach boys, they're already sold on guns, they don't need to be sold on guns. It's possible to get kids excited about science without pandering to popular culture's commercial obsessions or the US cowboy lunacy.

I just don't see how anyone can have a nuanced view without being called PC any more.
posted by Peach at 6:41 PM on May 26, 2006


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