Group teaches projectile motion with rockets

A group of UNA students launched a small rocket last week, marking the beginning of a joint undergraduate research project by students majoring in math, education and computer science.

“The project consists of two undergraduate teams that are studying alternative ways to teach projectile motion to high school and college students,” said Atticus Wright, a senior computer science major. “We are in the early stages of the project; the launch gave us some real-world data to work with.”

Wright said the project began when he and Patrick Lindsay, also a senior at UNA, asked their professors about doing an honors capstone project.

“Our professors realized we had several students looking to do some research, so we decided to combine them,” Wright said, “I’ve never been involved with a project like this. I’m learning a lot about research methods.”

While one team designs a computer simulation to teach projectile motion to calculus students, the other will create a lesson plan for Algebra 2 students, using model rockets, Wright said.

“We were discussing how a lot of our students didn’t notice the relationship between math and computer science,” said Cynthia Stenger, interim chair of the UNA Department of Mathematics. “On each team we have a math major, a computer science major and a math education major.”

All members are responsible for their own area but closely rely on their team to complete the research and build a lesson plan, Stenger said. The goal of both teams is to determine the benefits of teaching projectile motion to students through alternative means.

“Undergraduate research, in general, is good experience, but this project is good in particular because (students) get exposed to how several different areas all work together,” Stenger said. “You get to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise interact with — who have a different viewpoint. It’s been a blast for us.”

James Jerkins, instructor of computer science, said the students were hand-picked for the project, although all students should consider doing undergraduate research.

“You need to be able to think clearly, carefully and creatively,” Jerkins said. “Developing those skills comes from the process of scientific inquiry.”

Jerkins said the team will be attending an undergraduate research conference in two weeks to present their initial findings, but this is only the beginning.

“Next semester we plan to scale this up with a bigger rocket, our own flight computer with software we are designing ourselves, actual high school students to test our lesson plans on and a conference with more than just undergraduates,” Jerkins said.

Stenger and Jerkins said they intend for the results of the project to encourage more students to get involved with undergraduate research at UNA.