An outside-the-box activity to demonstrate how humans and animals turn

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Department of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology


Developing hands-on activities that engage and excite K–12 students is critical for stimulating interest in science-based careers. We created an activity for high school students that required them to integrate biology and physics concepts to experience how humans and animals maneuver through their environments (i.e., turning). Understanding how turning works is important because it accounts for up to 50% of daily walking steps and is needed for survival when animals elude predators and capture prey. For this activity, student groups used 2 × 4 lumber, wood screws, and a power drill to build an apparatus that, when connected to the body, altered rotational inertia (object’s resistance to change in angular motion, I = mass × radius2). Students navigated through a slalom course with the apparatus (increased radius and rotational inertia) and without the apparatus (mass-matched control). Times to complete the course were compared between trials to determine the influence of rotational inertia on turning performance. Students compiled their data, graphed their results, and found that increased rotational inertia decreased turning performance. Results were connected to sports, rehabilitation, and dinosaur evolution. This activity was implemented during local, regional, national, and international outreach events and adapted for use in undergraduate courses as well (total impact, 250 students). At the end of the activity, students were able to 1) describe whether their results supported their hypothesis; 2) explain how radius influences rotational inertia and turning performance; and 3) apply results to real-world examples. Students and teachers appreciated this “outside-the-box” activity with an engineering twist and found it entertaining.

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Copyright © 2019 the American Physiological Society. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

Advances in Physiology Education