Ellis’ chemistry, physics programs two of few in the nation

Published 6:55 am Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If you want to know how to drop a raw egg six meters — without it suffering even a crack — ask an Ellis Middle School student in a couple of months.

Be warned, they probably won’t just tell you how to do it. First, they will have to explain downward momentum, and how to calculate that. Of course, before that they will need to go over concepts of mass, velocity, the acceleration of gravity and force of impact — the physics necessary to understand the experiment.

Seventh-graders taking the Integrated Physics and Technology (IPT) class will work on the egg-drop project in the coming weeks.

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This is the second year the course, which is half theory and half applied lab work, has been offered at Ellis. New this year is a subsequent class for eighth-graders, Integrated Chemistry and Technology (ICT).

The courses admit only top students, based on test scores, grades and teacher recommendations.

And, according to teacher Steve Weisgram, they are two of “very few in the entire nation.”

Weisgram teaches the technical part of IPT, and Tom Fritz teaches the theory.

Students who complete the integrated classes in good standing can be eligible to skip freshman and sophomore science courses in high school, starting in advanced classes.

IPT and ICT are among several recent upgrades related to the school’s Industrial Technology Program.

As a recipient of the district’s curriculum cycle funds, the program purchased new supplies this year — replacing 25 to 30 percent of their equipment.

The curriculum cycle distributes money to a different department area in the district each year. Funds were given to the program at Austin High School too.

The Industrial Technology Program at Ellis has classes in woods, plastics, manufacturing, graphics production and graphics multimedia. IPT and ICT are integrated with the science department.

Some of the industrial technology equipment had not been upgraded in 25 years, Ernie Moeller, department head of the program said.

“All of us are so very happy for this extra money we’ve been given to upgrade our program,” he said.

New equipment includes a Carvewright machine for woods classes. It allows students to create a design on a computer, which is then automatically carved onto a wood item, such as a jewelry box or guitar.

“It just came in a week ago, so students haven’t been able to use it yet,” Moeller said.

Among equipment purchased to make the labs safer, they added a new safe cable saw — one that stops instantly if an object gets too close to the blade.

Students do not use the cable saws at Ellis, and last year one teacher did cut their hand on the old saw.

The plastics course bought a new computer operated milling machine.

The Integrated Physics and Technology class got new equipment too, including Lego NXT Robotics kits.

“These are very popular, and we have 16 kits,” Weisgram said.

He explained that the students build computerized robots with the Legos, and go on to do the programming themselves on computers.

ICT and IPT are very popular, and more kids apply to the classes than can be accepted.

“Industrial tech. classes are always popular,” Moeller said.

He continued, “And, we think it is important to try to expose kids to a wide variety of subjects, so they have a chance to find any interests and skills.”

Moeller said the money was all spent on equipment rather than textbooks.

“The trouble with technology is that it moves so fast, much of the information in a book would be out of date too quickly,” Weisgram said.

Instead, teachers create booklets and handouts for students.

Of course, science textbooks are used for the ICT and IPT courses, he said.

Despite all of the new added technological equipment and gadgets, Moeller said the classes are still focused on foundation skills.

“First you learn on a T-square, and then you learn on a computer,” he said.

“Students have to understand drafting and the basic concepts before they use the technology.”