Monday, May 07, 2012

Random STEM Question of the Day #3

My current job has my flying a lot. I'm on flights somewhere around 8-10 times a month now. I'm not a huge fan of airports (although there was an interesting segment on NPR this week about a writer being invited to live in one for a week) but I do like airplanes. There's all sorts of great science wrapped up in them. Bernoulli's principle obviously comes to mind since that's what makes them work in the first place.

Last time I was flying we were on a 757 which had a great little touch screen in the back of each seat and you could bring up flight data that included the altitude and exterior temperature. I thought it would be fun to graph that, but I didn't feel like staring at that and recording all the data for a 3 hour flight.

Of course, any time you're flying, there's always the question of how the pilots are minimizing the distance traveled which is flying along a great circle, unless jet streams are involved. But that's not something I'd discuss with students since it's not likely they've had any spherical trig or calculus of variations.

But what would a good question be? I usually have books with me when flying, but I wasn't feeling them last flight, so I picked up their Sky Mag, and in the back was this image:

Over at one of my favorite teacher blogs, dy/dan, he often presents scenarios with the tag WCYDWT? which is an abbreviation for "What Can You Do With This?".

I love the idea and it's one that has motivated a lot of my thinking when it comes to education, and when I see images like the above, there's a lot of good questions that could be asked.

Here's the first one that popped into my mind when I saw this:

The image gives us information about the thrust of an engine as well as the max speed. This can tell you something about the drag the plane is experiencing. Thus, it would seem that there's some information buried in there about how overall efficient the plane is. Which are the most? Which are the least? Does the airline charge more to make up for the inefficiency of those that have more drag?

What questions can you come up with?

Random STEM Question of the Day #2

My friend Sarah and I took a road trip to Marceline, MO this past weekend. For those that don't know, Marceline is Walt Disney's childhood home and we've been running a Disney blog since the beginning of this year.

Sarah and I have been on quite a few road trips together and we always play the license plate game. If you're not familiar with it, the goal is to find license plates from as many states or other unique identifiers as possible (e.g. Ontario, US government, etc...). She always wins due to her having far more experience (her family went on roadtrips as a kid and mine, not so much) as well as likely better vision.

One of the best sources of license plates from far off locales is trucks. Thus, to ensure the game keeps moving along, you really need to make sure you're passing trucks.

On the way home, however, Sarah noted that there sure seemed to be a lot more trucks in the opposite lane (going the opposite direction) than we were passing which was frustrating since the highway is divided and the division it too large to tell what states they were from (not to mention squinting at plates on oncoming traffic is a bad idea if you're a driver).

Immediately, I figured this was due to the bias imposed by the fact that the trucks going the same direction were, well, going the same direction, so our relative velocity would be far less.

But there sure did seem to be a lot of trucks going the opposite direction.

Perhaps there was a preferred direction.

So the question of the day is, how many trucks should you see going the opposite direction compared to the ones going the same direction?