Students happily return to boomerang lessons
June 27, 2009
By Laura Geggel
Ian Raley-Silva noted the direction of the wind before bending his right arm behind his head and flicking his boomerang into the sky. It took an impressive loop, spinning back to earth and into Raley-Silva’s waiting hands.
Raley-Silva is one of 12 seventh- and eighth-grade students attending Two Rivers School. Like many of his classmates, he learns better by doing things. Two Rivers middle school teacher Joe Burgener understood this and started the boomerang project nine years ago. It incorporates elements of math, social studies, writing and science into the month-long mission.
“What is most important is how are the kids involved so they can learn?” Burgener said. “We try to unravel the mystery of the boomerang in here.”
Students appear to be learning with every twist their boomerangs take. They begin their projects by making cardboard tri-blade boomerangs reinforced with bamboo rods. Burgener slips geometry into the process, asking students to attach the three cardboard wings exactly 120 degrees away from the next.
“It’s a trihedral,” student Talon Kosmoski said.
To complete the boomerang, students connect spoons to tops of its wings, a trick that creates airfoils that help the boomerangs soar.
“The air foil creates low pressure on top of the wing and high pressure below to help it fly,” Burgener said.
With their cardboard boomerangs in hand, the students take to the field behind Two Rivers, learn about boomerang safety and throw their creations 500 times in sets of 20. They tally their results and record them in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Burgener shows them how to calculate their success rate and asks them to create graphs comparing their catching rates to those of their classmates.
“They get a lot better at it,” Two Rivers assistant teacher Denise Atkinson said. “There’s a little bit of friendly competition in there.”
In the meantime, students research the boomerang’s evolution.
“The first boomerang that was found was in Poland,” student Mitch Searls said. “It wasn’t meant to come back.”
Although boomerangs are famous for their Australian connections, the first boomerangs were found in Europe and are believed to be from the Stone Age. Archeologists even found boomerangs in the tomb of King Tut, pharaoh of Egypt. Initially, boomerangs were likely used as digging tools and later as hunting weapons.
Burgener requires his class complete a boomerang report, detailing the flying instrument’s history, safety factors, flight variables and more.
As the project progresses, students design their own boomerangs out of aircraft grade birch plywood. After drawing a blueprint, students cut their boomerang with a jigsaw, carve in curved airfoils, sand the wood, apply sealant and spray-paint their creation with an original design.
“The boomerang is a simple looking thing that is so complex,” Burgener said.
There is a catch. Students can only take home their wooden boomerangs if they hand in their reports.
“These kids right now are so invested in their boomerangs,” Burgener said. “A lot of them don’t have much building experience and they build it from the start.”
This year, all of Burgener’s students are boys, but he said his past female students have enjoyed the project just as much.
“I think it’s fun,” student Cody Byrd said. “Not very many other schools get to do it.”
After doing this project, Byrd said he is more comfortable with Excel, knows a right-handed person can’t throw a left-handed boomerang and, so far, has caught his cardboard boomerang 226 times out of almost 500 tries.
Other students reeled through boomerang model names — the Everest, the M-shaped mad boomerang, the deuce and one that looked like a Japanese character.
“When I first started throwing it, I wasn’t that good,” Byrd said. “Then, I got better.”
At a fieldtrip to Centennial Fields, students practiced throwing wooden boomerangs and learned the airfoils on a boomerang are similar to those on a plane.
Burgener asked students to examine a model airplane’s wings, pointing out the semi-symmetrical curvature of its wings. In contrast, boomerangs are curved symmetrically.
The students nodded and then returned to their boomerang throwing.
“It’s a great class,” Kosmoski said.
Reach reporter Laura Geggel at 392-6434 .221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.