Big Science



We were doing some math. He was figuring out some two-step word problems in geometry. I was trying to recreate the formula for acceleration.

"Twenty-seven feet per second," I says aloud.

"What's twenty-seven feet per second?"

"The speed things fall. But maybe only for the first twenty-seven feet."

"Doesn't it depend on how heavy they are?"

"Oh, no. Big rocks and small rocks fall at the same speed."

"No way!"

"Yes way!"

"No!"

Seeing that he wasn't going to by moved by mere assertions of fact, I gathered a tennis ball and the small plastic cap from a water bottle.

"Different weights, right?" I asked, handing them to him. He agreed, and I took them back.

I closed our classroom door, so as not to disturb the neighbours. Then I climbed up on to a two-foot stool, and dropped the objects from a height of about nine feet. Thwack! They hit the floor at the same time (presumably one-third of a second after I released them).

"What!?!" He was amazed. "How... So, everything falls the same no matter how heavy it is?"

"Weight doesn't matter," I said, sounding very professorial, "but shape does."

And knowing his empiricistic tendencies, I demonstrated what happened when you drop a tennis ball and a sheet of paper at the same time.

"Ahhh...", he said. "Well. I learned something today."

Then we went back to our maths.

A few minutes later, he observed, "You can't really trust the science in Saturday morning cartoons."

No, you can't.

They're more about context, inference and main idea.


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