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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
By: Melanie Yamaguchi
Nearly 20 Mid-Pacific Institute sophomores gathered at the school's football field Tuesday for one common goal: to fire water balloons at their math and science teacher from five wooden catapults.
These catapults - each about 4 feet by 3 feet - were built solely by students as a way to help them understand and apply the physics of projectile motion. The objective of the assignment was to strike their instructor with the water balloons at a distance of between 30 to 70 meters.
Matthew Ho, a Mid-Pac sophomore, said the hands-on nature of the project provided him with alternative ways to think about physics and motivated him to fully grasp the concepts of the subject.
"Physics to a student is only lines on paper in a textbook until it comes to life," Ho said. "When you really see what physics is, you see the core concepts of how physics affects us in real life and understand that physics is the way that the universe works. That is a profoundly inspiring idea."
The finished products included bungee catapults and trebuchet which uses a counterweight to throw the projectile. The entire project - which took about 12 weeks for students to complete - is all part of Mid-Pac's "Mid-Pacific eXploratory" (MPX) program aiming to provide hands-on experiences in engineering and humanities fields.
"When kids have a link to something that's more authentic, when it has meaning, when it's something that they've created and had more input in, they're more likely to attend to it, they spend more time with it, they learn better, they remember it for sure for a much longer period of time," MPX director Mark Hines said.
The program, which launched in the 2012-2013 school year, requires students to take a course in humanities - like history and literature - and a course in engineering - such as math and science.
Hines said involving students in real-world projects and inviting engineers for guest lectures helps them to better retain information.
"By getting them situated with experts in the field and thinking of themselves as part of the connection, we know that carries with them and they're more likely to make choices that engage them because they know what that's like in the beginning," Hines said.
Ho said he thinks more schools should push hands-on learning as a way to excite students in learning about difficult subjects.
"I think if you ask a lot of kids our age about what physics is, they would say it's long lectures," he said. "Not many kids can say that it's a day in the sun, having fun with your friends, collaborating, working together to meet a common goal."