A seltzer rocket, a Windbag and a balancing toy were all part of the presentation Tucson teacher Barbara Cushing delivered to fellow educators today at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Club Conference at the Black Canyon Conference Center in Phoenix.
Cushing, who was named Southern Arizona’s Top Middle School Science teacher for 2014 at the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Fair (SARSEF), was invited to speak on the “Physics of Toys” class she created and taught with STEM grant funds.
“We investigated physics concepts through the use and creation of our own toys,” said Cushing, who teaches science at the Legacy Traditional Schools Northwest Tucson campus. “Even though our focus is primarily physics, the students are always reminded that our program is not just about the ‘S’ in STEM. Our program is interdisciplinary and includes all the elements.”
Cushing led students through a series of toy-based experiments to illustrate scientific principles, including Hot Wheels cars and seltzer rockets for Newton’s laws of motion; roller coasters for potential and kinetic energy; Slinky toys for transverse and longitudinal wave resonances; and parachutes for gravity, drag influences and air resistance.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Statistics and a Master’s in Education, Cushing has worked as a Mars researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Division; a computer scientist for the U.S. Navy; a scientific satellite planner at the University of Alaska; a space science educator with NASA’s Challenger Learning Center; a STEM educator at UA’s Biosphere 2; and as a sea ice researcher in Antarctica on board the National Science Foundation’s icebreaker/research vessel.
She also has served as a featured speaker at the Space Exploration Educators Conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, encouraging educators to encourage and nurture girls’ interest in the STEM fields.
“Presenting at conferences is a great way to share and connect with other individuals who are interested in the same research or programs, as well as to feel integrated within the academic community,” she said.
Sponsored by Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz), the free conference drew educators from public schools throughout Arizona.