Kids Slow Down to Learn about Speed

NEWPORT NEWS - As sixth-grader Kenyona Bailey began the bike race, her teammates cheered for her with shouts rarely heard in such a competition.

"Slow," they yelled.

"Slower," they insisted.

"Brake it," they screamed.

Kenyona barely pedaled, wanting to comply with her teammates' demands and the goal of the race: finish last.

Kenyona, her four teammates and 16 other sixth-graders from Crittenden Middle School competed Tuesday in a slow-bicycle race as part of a weeklong math and science program at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, also known as Jefferson Lab.

The program - called BEAMS, or Becoming Enthusiastic About Math and Science - helps students make a connection between what they learn in the classroom and work they could do as adults, said Lisa Surles-Law, a science education technician at Jefferson Lab.

During this week, students will perform hands-on activities to learn lessons such as the effects of temperature extremes or how to design a boat to carry the most cargo.

On Tuesday, the Crittenden class learned to calculate speed in the slow-bike race held on a Jefferson Lab parking lot.

Each student rode a bike three times for six meters each time, or a total of about 60 feet. Tape marked a rectangular track about six meters long and 60 centimeters wide. Each student tried to ride the bike within the track as slowly as possible without feet touching the ground. Another student recorded the travel time with a stopwatch.

The students, who divided into four teams, calculated how far their team went and how much time it took to get that far.

Econto Hodge said he felt nervous as he rode the bike, but not because he competed against several classmates. Instead, as he hopped on the bike, a high-powered person walked up to observe his performance.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson was visiting the Jefferson Lab and took some time to watch the students.

Econto ultimately performed well under pressure. "I got more than what I did before," he said.

When Richardson watched, Econto's time reached about 12 seconds. Before that, it took about five seconds for Econto to travel the six meters.

But his time failed to beat out the slowest biker in the class: Kenyona.

It took her 46.59 seconds to travel 18 meters.

Kenyona said she enjoyed the race - and not just because she won. "You get to learn and have fun at the same time," she said.