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November 24, 2014

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Education:

Skateboarding, physics collide in library exhibit

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Leila Navidi

Sheila Tarr Elementary School fifth-graders enjoy the “Tony Hawk Rad Science” exhibit at Sahara West Library in Las Vegas on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.

'Tony Hawk Rad Science'

Sheila Tarr Elementary School fifth-grader Donovan Terzian, 10, experiments with balance at the Launch slideshow »

About the exhibit

    The "Tony Hawk: Rad Science" exhibit will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Jan. 20 at the Sahara West Library, 9600 W. Sahara Ave.

    Admissions prices are as follows: adults — $7; seniors (ages 55 and over) and students — $6; children 3-11 — $5; children under 3 — free.

Sun coverage

Youngsters walk along skateboarding ramps inside of Sahara West Library, testing out a board and taking in the images of pro skater Tony Hawk.

Despite what it may look like, the students aren’t there to kickflip or ollie. Their knowledge of physics is what's being ramped up.

“It is about skateboarding,” said Amy Page, who handles content and programming for Exhibit IQ, the company behind the museum piece. “When you see the exhibit, when you visit the exhibit, it’s skateboarding.”

It’s also physics.

The collaboration among Las Vegas-based Exhibit IQ, Hawk and a University of California, Berkeley, physics professor encourages students to see the connection between the science of motion and skateboarding.

“You’re sort of viewing physics and experiencing science through the lens of skateboarding,” Page said.

The goal of that lens is to make physics more attractive to children and teens who are on the cusp of losing their interest in the sciences.

“It’s one thing for people to view exhibits, but if you can engage them by interacting with an exhibit, it’s even better,” said Marilyn Gillespie, director of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

The traveling “Tony Hawk: Rad Science” exhibit, brought to the library by the Natural History Museum, features a skateboard to test balance and a lineup on the history and future of skateboards. There's also a “momentum machine” that lets visitors spin around and around.

“People are surprised that you can climb all over it,” Page said. “You can get on a skateboard.”

Click to enlarge photo

Tony Hawk at the Hard Rock Hotel.

While the exhibit attempts to appeal to students' creativity, it also teaches fundamental physics concepts like rotational momentum, gravity and how scientific principles affect design.

The exhibit's two-year planning and fabrication process included a collaboration between Hawk, who performed skateboarding tricks, and Berkeley physicist Joel Fajans, who asked to see certain angles and movements. The lessons learned from that exploration helped to establish the exhibit's content.

“Skating is so physical and it’s so technical that there’s so many small things,” Hawk said.

Hawk, who signed onto the project after Exhibit IQ approached his foundation, said the emphasis on making science more accessible reminded him of his physics teacher. The educator incorporated students' interests, such as skateboarding, into physics problems, custom designing problems for his students.

“I found that I was more engaged when that happened,” Hawk said.

The professional skateboarder, who liked subjects such as science and math in school, said he hopes the exhibit helps students relate to the concepts, like his teacher helped him.

“He related it to skating for me, and I wanted to do something like that on a big scale,” Hawk said.

When Jordyn Hoffman used to skateboard, his mind didn’t immediately jump to classroom lessons on centripetal force.

“I haven’t thought about more of the physics side of it,” he said. “I just thought that’s how you did it.”

Hoffman, a student studying biotechnology at West Career and Technical Academy, is one of six members of the school's Tony Hawk Council.

The group worked with Exhibit IQ to design and market the exhibit, helping to pick a name and giving input about how to make the design accessible to people their age.

They made the trip to the exhibit's opening in Berkeley, Calif., where they had the chance to meet Hawk.

“It was fascinating to see our ideas come to life,” said Lilly South, who is in the school's civil engineering program.

Some engineering students, such as Cielo Gumabon, even had the chance to work as a team to create a prototype for a loop design. The students' design will be refined and included in the exhibit.

Gumabon said contributing to the project and the council helped her appreciate the culture of skateboarding, and it introduced some concepts that have helped her in class.

“I understand it now that I’m in physics or when I apply it to what we do,” she said.

The experience of interacting with the exhibit hasn't been limited to the students who helped design it or young children. The field trip schedule filled up within 10 days, and Page said middle-school students are among those most engaged by the interactive lessons.

Gillespie said the Natural History Museum, which had to house the exhibit in the library due to space constraints, hopes to do more to bring interactive science lessons to town.

"We really see the need in the community," Gillespie said. "We want to be able to fill that hole."

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