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Young Achievers: Senior earns Gold Award by teaching physics to kids

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- PHOTOS COURTESY OF MORGAN FERONE
Morgan Ferone teaches physics lessons to students grades three to five this summer.

Morgan Ferone loves physics.

“I think it’s the coolest,” said Morgan, a Myers Park High senior. “Physics runs the world.”

This summer, Morgan, 17, worked to inspire elementary students to love the subject through the Freedom School Partners’ summer program.

To earn her Gold Award with the Girl Scouts, Morgan created a curriculum of lesson plans to teach children the basics of physics while having fun.

“She had the knowledge and ability to work with the kids and had a passion for that, so we said sure,” said Tammy Sanders, Freedom School’s activity and logistics coordinator.

Freedom School Partners is a nonprofit that provides educational summer programs for at-risk students grades K-12.

Morgan’s lessons reached 130 students, grades three to five, at six of Freedom School’s 19 sites.

Girls and physics

Last year, Morgan decided to take Myers Park’s two-year International Baccalaureate physics program.

A lot of her peers advised her against it, she said, because it’s supposed to be a tough branch of science – and not an easy A. More girls were taking environmental science or biology, Morgan said.

But she said she wanted a challenge.

Her physics teacher, Arthur Baum, said he admired that decision.

“She does what she likes,” he said. “She’s really interested in physics and not afraid to take risks and to learn about it, more than the average IB student.”

Women are nationally underrepresented in studying physics, said Susan White, a research manager for the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics.

In 2009, the institute’s research found that girls accounted for just 32 percent of AP and IB high school physics classes. In regular high school physics classes, girls account for a little less than half the enrollment.

Researchers haven’t figured out why women shy away from physics. “If we knew, we’d be able to attack the problem,” White said.

Baum said Morgan’s project was great for the young students.

“Having a role model who’s older, who they can see is a girl and who’s successful and excited about science will speak volumes to them about what they can do when they grow up,” he said.

That’s what Morgan hoped to do.

Making physics fun

She began by submitting her proposal to the Girl Scouts last fall. Over her spring break, she made posters and researched lesson plans.

“The challenge was taking the math out of physics,” she said. “I knew equations wouldn’t go over that well with elementary students.”

Morgan made plans complete with demonstrations and activities for five topics: gravity and momentum, laws of motion, waves and sound, magnets and states of matter.

For gravity and momentum, Morgan had the kids do egg drops to learn about mass, velocity and momentum. One of her laws of motion activities involved pushing each other on skateboards outside (while wearing padding and helmets). To demonstrate equal and opposite reactions, Morgan made the explosive combination of Coca-Cola and Mentos in a bottle strapped to a skateboard. The reaction propelled the skateboard down the sidewalk.

For waves and sound, students enjoyed learning with Slinkies and string telephones. To learn about states of matter, students observed experiments with dry ice and made ice cream by hand.

Morgan said one of the hardest parts of the project was recruiting people to help teach.

Anna Claire Joyner, a senior at Myers Park who taught some of the physics classes, said organizing teenagers’ summer schedules wasn’t easy.

Morgan convinced 17 friends to volunteer. Bringing a box of doughnuts sometimes helped, as did the prospect of beefing up college resumes and volunteer hours.

“Even though I was living and breathing this physics curriculum, they weren’t, so I had to make this a priority for them, too,” she said.

Anna Claire said Morgan made a schedule assigning everyone to particular dates and lesson plans. She taught the curriculum and gave posters to volunteers at her house.

“All we had to do was share what she created,” Anna Claire said.

Sustainable lessons

To earn the Gold Award (which Morgan did), the project needed to be sustainable, and Sanders said it would be.

Morgan left her published booklets of her lesson plans, along with CDs of lesson instructions.

Sanders said she’d be sharing the lessons with site coordinators and executive directors at Freedom School Partners, and that she hopes to implement them, perhaps with interns, next summer.

Morgan said the main highlight of the classes was seeing kids get excited about science.

She recalled in particular one little girl yelling, “Look! It’s the physics girl!” when she saw Morgan.

“She just said ‘physics’ in a happy sentence,” Morgan said. “That was the best moment for me.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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