Physics and a Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sandwich.

It’s amazing to me what teenagers can do if the proper motivation is applied. At Xavier High School, the Bacon Egg and Cheese sandwich sits alone atop the teen menu leaderboard. The Blue Valley Deli on the corner of 6th and 16th would fade into dust were it not for the steady flow of $5 bills passed across the counter in exchange for ketchup-covered, breakfast gold.

So each year I challenge my freshman Physics 1 class to the “Bacon, Egg and Cheese Bull’s-Eye Challenge”.

The first team to devise a way to roll a marble off the edge of their table and achieve the goal of having that marble drop into a small plastic cup on the floor wins BEC sandwiches for the whole team.

The catch: they only get one chance.

So teams devise the materials, method, procedure, calculations needed, etc. Then once their game plan is set they get to test and measure without the marble ever leaving the table. There’s no trial and error here. The first time the marble leaves the table needs to be the ultimate run.

Inevitably groups figure out how to measure the horizontal velocity of the marble on the table using a meter stick and stop watch. They measure the distance from the table top to the cup on the floor to determine how long the marble will be in the air, and then they use those measurements to determine how far away from the table to place the cup. If their measurements and calculations are good, the marble goes in on the first try.

Having fun and learning at the same time. Planning together and achieving mutual goals. Tackling difficult problems with drive, ingenuity, and persistence. These are the obvious outcomes. Whether the BEC sandwich is needed to reach those outcomes can be debated. Its effectiveness to jump start the activity, however, cannot be questioned.

I wonder if Newton’s own professors at Trinity College in Cambridge used similar methods for sparking young Isaac. Probably not, but then his profs weren’t competing with X-Box and Instagram.

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