Science from the side of a cliff
LAKE PLACID – Students from the Lake Placid Middle-High School got a chance for some hands-on learning in the backcountry in late July.
The students took a rock climbing and science course with Lake Placid guides Don Mellor and Michael Bauman. The course ran for two weeks, with eight students participating each week.
The students were taken to some of the popular local climbing locations, such as the cliffs near Chapel Pond and those on Pitchoff Mountain near Cascade Lakes, and taught the basics of the activity. In addition, the students learned general concepts about physics, including gravity, energy transfer through rope and anchor systems and friction, through field tests. They also learned some geology.
“It’s a fun way to learn science, and it really brings it to life,” said Lake Placid principal Theresa Lindsay. “It’s actually twofold. One is that it brings science to life for kids. Two, it gets them out into what this area has to offer, and a lot of these kids that are doing this would never have that opportunity.”
Lindsay said the idea for the course came from a team-building session for middle school students last September. The activity for the session and the activity was rock climbing. Around that time, Lindsay started talking to Bauman, who led the session and mentioned that he has done a science and rock climbing program for students in Vermont. The program is called Adventure-Science.
When the Lake Placid schools recently received a Science Technology Engineering and Math grant, Lindsay came back to Bauman and asked him to teach the course here.
In addition to being a guide for High Peaks Mountain Guides in Lake Placid, Bauman works as engineering consultant. He earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. Bauman has more than 17 years of experience developing and testing products in various industries, including semiconductor manufacturing, industrial equipment and military weapons.
“(The program) gets them outside and teaches them a lot more than just the physics or the science of it because they have to work together as a groups,” Bauman said. “We work on planning and safety, and we talk about conservation of the outdoors, environment. We bring a lot of different elements into it. So overall, I think it’s a great learning experience for them.”
Eddie Orsi, who is just 11 years old, said he enjoyed himself during the course.
“I think it was fun,” he said. “When we first were doing a real cliff, I freaked out because I didn’t know I was afraid of heights until that moment.”
Orsi said he was up about 50 feet at that point and was nervous. Over the week, he overcame his fear of heights. In the process, he said he learned some basics about rock climbing and also about friction and erosion. He said he was glad he participated in the program.
Student Tony Matos, 14, said he learned about G-forces.
“We’d fall and the rope would catch us, and we’d see how many Gs we’d generate,” he said. “We also learned about friction and how the rocks can tear apart the ropes as well as friction with the belayers.”
Mellor is an English teacher at Northwood School in Lake Placid and is also the author of numerous rock climbing guidebooks. He was encouraged by the way the students supported each other during the exercises.
“I think it’s got really good potentially,” he said. “Obviously, the people who are good at things learn by doing it. All of the achievers learned by doing – by getting out there and getting their hands dirty. So science with a piece of chalk is different from science when you’re (rappelling) off a cliff. Physics takes on a different meaning.”