Teachers Try Weightlessness for Science and Fun

Participants experience weightlessness. i i

Participants experience the first flight of Northrop Grumman Foundation's 2007 Weightless Flights of Discovery program. Northrop Grumman Foundation hide caption

itoggle caption Northrop Grumman Foundation
Participants experience weightlessness.

Participants experience the first flight of Northrop Grumman Foundation's 2007 Weightless Flights of Discovery program.

Northrop Grumman Foundation

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Sometime teachers get the tough assignments. One of the country's largest defense companies, Northrop Grumman, is sending teachers on flights that simulate zero gravity. The idea is to inspire them to use technology to get their students excited about science and math.

Mario Armstrong, an NPR technology contributor, recently took a ride on "G-Force One," a specially modified Boeing 727.

"It is quite surreal to kind of feel the different levels [of gravity]," Armstrong tells Renee Montagne.

One level simulated the gravity on Mars, about 1/3 the gravity of Earth. Another level simulated walking on the moon, about 1/6th Earth's gravity. Finally, teachers felt the full weightlessness of zero gravity.

The teachers soon turned into kids.

"There was a lot of whoo and screams," Armstrong says. "You almost felt like you were on a roller-coaster ride."

But the flight had a serious side. The teachers conducted experiments, some prepared with their students prior to the flight, including observing the different densities of oil and water density, and tossing M&Ms to see how objects that would normally fall to the ground would float.

In another experiment, called the "teacher toss," participants allowed themselves to be thrown to each other to demonstrate mass and acceleration.

The activities were videotaped for later viewing by students.

"Many of the teachers said they felt that this really would change the dynamic in the classroom," Armstrong says.

Mario Armstrong is host of the technology show Armstrong's Digital Spin on members stations WEAA and WYPR in Baltimore.

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