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Testing out Newton’s laws of motion, with longboards

STEM students try out handmade boards at local parks and lake

Kenowa Hills — Kenowa Hills STEM Academy students were far from bored during their Gone Boarding unit this spring. 

Towards the end of May, STEM academy eighth-graders could be found skating and skimming across Millennium Park in Walker, on newly built longboards and skateboards. 

STEM Academy teachers Joanna Haines and Steven Feutz’s students designed and constructed the boards’ decks and assembled the hardware to attach the wheels by hand. 

‘Every project we do has math and science elements. … Students had to demonstrate Newton’s three laws of motion, not using paper and a pencil but actually demonstrating with their boards.’

—  STEM Academy teacher Steven Fuetz

“This project took determination,” eighth-grader Emerson Bergman said.

“And a lot of patience,” her classmate Colton Rogaski added. “We had to plan it out first, then used layers of wood, alternating the direction of the grain, to make it strong and flexible.” 

Colton also explained how students purchased their own wheels or used ones from class supplies.

“Longboard wheels are bigger so you can go over different terrain or sidewalks. Skateboards use smaller wheels for tricks,” he said. 

Kenowa Hills STEM Academy eighth-graders at Millennium Park celebrate completing their handmade longboards

Students In Motion Stay In Motion 

This is the second year Haines and Feutz taught Gone Boarding with STEM students. The project-based curriculum centers around board design and construction, while empowering students to lead, innovate and take pride in their personalized boards.   

“They had three deck profiles to choose from before beginning to build their longboard,” Feutz said. “Beyond that it was up to them.” 

Students printed designs for the underside of their boards on rice paper, followed by layers of epoxy and fiberglass. Eighth-grader Anthony Taylor covered his longboard with a variety of memes and pop-culture references, including a photo of Haines.

An unconventional project made for an unconventional final exam. 

“Every project we do has math and science elements,” Feutz said. “We graded the boards and students had to demonstrate Newton’s three laws of motion, not using paper and a pencil but actually demonstrating with their boards.” 

To his teachers’ delight, Anthony was able to identify how the longboard exemplified two out of the three laws; he had to think about the second one for a few minutes longer. 

“For the first law, (the law of inertia) if we were to push the boards, that’s the outside force; it would stay moving if I let it keep going,” he said. “I guess the ground would be the outside force to slow it down.”

To explain Newton’s third law — the law of action and reaction — Anthony explained, “If you push your foot back on the ground, the board moves forward.” 

Keep Calm and Paddle On

“Oh dear, our fin is gone,” one student said after pulling their paddleboard out of the lake and onto the beach at Versluis Park in Grand Rapids later that week.

As with the longboards, Feutz’s ninth- and 10th-grade STEM academy geometry students tested their handmade paddleboards in nature’s elements. 

“(Paddleboards) take months to build and we only have one day to test them out,” Feutz said about working down to the wire to complete their boards before the end of the year. 

His final grading rubric: Does the paddleboard float, and can each group take precise measurements to calculate their board’s weight? 

Like the student who discovered their missing fin after paddling around the lake, Feutz said mixing the correct epoxy ratio proved to be tricky. 

His students agreed.

“Measuring the epoxy was the biggest challenge and trying to figure out how to balance the weight distribution,” a girl with a turtle towel said. 

Sophomore Maylik Valdez said his biggest challenge was crafting the board all by himself. 

“We took these graters to shape (the foam board) how we wanted it, covered it in fiberglass and epoxy and used rice paper to print our designs,” he said. “It felt good when I put it in the water and it floated. I didn’t know if it would float.”

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Young engineers turn paper into a wild ride
Students inspired by Barbie, and Harry Potter in STEM projects

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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