Oregon High School students engineer skylights to withstand hail

December 31, 2018
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Brody Wise, left, Kyle Cardella and Joel Hanner, all sophomores at Oregon High School, watch as physics teacher Lindsay Wells prepares to drop a metal ball, which represents a typical hailstorm, onto a skylight. Students in the class designed a cushion system for the skylights and then tested it in a simulation to see what kind of hailstorm damage could occur.

OREGON — Simulated hail fell on skylights in an Oregon High School physics classroom as students posed as engineers to come up with a design that could withstand the “weather.”

On the test day for their final designs a couple of weeks ago, each group of students brought up their Plexiglas skylight and told their teacher, Lindsay Wells, what size hailstone they thought it could withstand. All of the frames withstood what was determined to be a typical–size hailstone, or about 1 inch in diameter. Most frames broke when they were tested with a 2-inch diameter hailstone, but a few withstood up to 2.5 inches.

The students were told to think of themselves not as a salesperson but as an engineer who was making a recommendation for the Oregon Manor Skilled Nursing Facility about what design would be the most beneficial.

For the project, the students chose what materials they would use for cushioning in the skylight frames they were given.

Junior Brett Stoffels said his group chose foam.

“It was relatively cheap and it had the most give,” he said.

Sophomore Christopher Learish said working with foam also was easy.

“We ran tests with every one of them,” senior Austin Burkholder said.

Sophomore Hayden Byrne said his group used cloth batting after trying bubble wrap and finding it was too thick.

Senior Sara Pedraza-Lopez said it was a little bit disappointing to have the skylight break.

“We came up with a lot of ideas, so for this to be the final one and have it break was kind of sad,” she said.

She wondered if the simulated hailstone had more of an impact because it dropped dead center.

Sophomore Kyle Cardella said the project taught students how impulse causes an object to change its momentum.

“And how devastating it can be and how it affects us in everyday life and you don’t even realize it,” said sophomore Joel Hanner.

When a hailstone hits a window, the window exerts a force on the hail while they’re in contact (an impulse), which causes the hail to slow down and stop or change its momentum. Students were testing out different materials that would increase the time that the hail was in contact with the window. The more give to the materials, the longer the time, and the lower the force, at least theoretically, Wells said.

Wells said it is the third year she and a fellow teacher, Jon Fishwild, have included the project in their curriculum. She said the first year the skylights were made out of glass rather than Plexiglas.

“Some of them were breaking while they were doing their initial testing (and) the cleanup was harder,” she said.

She said the students are told to think like engineers because otherwise they “sometimes gloss over limitations of their design.”

She said the project is designed to teach students how momentum is related to force and time. In addition to physics skills, the students learn work-related skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.

The engineering project also helps meet the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards.

“I liked it because we got to break stuff,” sophomore Destany Scott said.

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