Students Take Learning Science To A New Level

"They all grew up in and around Minnesota, so they know how to sled, but they never really thought about it from a physical perspective," said UMD Physics Professor Margaret Elmer-Dixon.

DULUTH, Minn. – A group of UMD students used Chester Bowl Ski Hill as their classroom for the day to learn more about science.

Physics is a subject most people learn about in a classroom or lab but a University of Minnesota Duluth professor is taking a new approach.

“They all grew up in and around Minnesota, so they know how to sled, but they never really thought about it from a physical perspective,” said UMD Physics Professor Margaret Elmer-Dixon.

She’s teaching them about the conservation of energy by sledding at Chester Bowl Ski Hill in Duluth.

“Students learn better when you put that concept into a system or experience they understand, so this is much more beneficial than me talking about two objects sliding down a ledge. Now they get to feel that. They get to see how it’s actually applied,” said Elmer-Dixon.

Many of the students enjoyed the chance just to get outdoors.

“It was fun. It’s a really great experience to get out here rather than on Zoom,” said UMD senior Mark Swann.

This particular physics class has been taught online since the start of the school year

“For a while now, we haven’t got to meet our classmates. This is the first time I’m seeing any of their faces in-person,” said Swann.

Professor Elmer-Dixon says the mini field trip is not only to introduce herself to her students but also to help them build on social interactions.

“When they attend Zoom they don’t always turn their cameras on, so I don’t even know what they look like, so it’s good for them to meet each other and build a rapport,” she said.

One student believes taking this non-traditional approach to learning will help make it easier to remember these lessons.

“I think having fun in learning, it really makes it stick a lot better than just doing problems on paper. It’s actually good to see what’s going on,” said Swann.

Whether they enjoy the idea of physics or not Professor Elmer-Dixon hopes her students walk away with the openness to keep learning.

“It’s ok if you don’t like physics. It’s ok if you don’t get a lot out of physics, but enter a class open-minded allows you to potentially learn something that you didn’t know you could learn,” she said. “At the end of the semester if they remember this is how energy works I will be happy.”

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