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Knowledge Flowing Outside the Classroom

Sarah O'Neill
At Tilton School, students are encouraged to imagine and create learning opportunities that require them to fully immerse themselves in the process. An Independent Learning Opportunity (ILO) derives from student passions. With approval from the Academic Dean and guidance from a faculty/staff mentor,  students mold their passion into an objective and project, with specific, manageable, and measurable goals outside of their regular school work. A well-designed, well-executed independent learning project is its own reward. These projects should extend student learning well beyond the basic.
It all started with a faucet.

Yiting (Eva) Pei ‘20 was trying to come up with an idea for her Advanced Placement Physics 2 design lab assignment. One morning, she turned the faucet on and watched the water flow out. Then it hit her: why not do the design lab on the motion of fluid?

This initial idea led Eva to pursue an Independent Learning Opportunity (ILO) centered around the research study of drag based turbines. In addition to submitting this as her AP Physics 2 project, she recruited friend Zekun (Samael) Mu ‘20 to assist her in entering the final product in the New Hampshire Science and Engineering Exposition Association (NHSEEA) High School Science Fair.

The project was officially titled The Study on Performance of Drag Based Water Turbine under Non-immersive ConditionIn total, it contained a research paper, a 3D model of a turbine, video documentation of how said turbine worked, and an empathy interview.

In the study, the performance of turbines with blades of varying numbers and curvature was observed under the same initial water flow. A graph was created to demonstrate that relationship and the power produced by measuring the rotational speed of the blades.  

For this project, Eva designed her very own turbine using a computer aided design (CAD) program and 3D printer.

“A water turbine produces hydroelectricity. What we created is a pretty basic drag turbine with a Savonius rotor,” Eva said. “It has many blades and the force of the water pushes against a surface, like an open sail. We researched the curvature of the blade and the number of blades under the same water flow, to see how these factors influence how fast the turbine will go. “

In the end, it was concluded that the best-performed turbine had four blades and 180° curvature, with a rotational speed of 1027.6 RPM.

After presenting this successfully in class to AP Physics 2 teacher Katherine McCandless, the idea of the New Hampshire High School Science Fair was brought to the forefront. On March 21, Eva and Samael traveled to Concord, New Hampshire to take part in the fair.

The NHSEEA, which includes the NH High School Science Fair, is one way the State of New Hampshire hopes to advance science education. The expo gives New Hampshire students the opportunity to further pursue science related activities in a number of fields, including engineering, technology, and social sciences. Students communicate their results through a predetermined number of journals, posters, equipment, and interviews.

The science behind what Eva was looking at with this project is fluids, which is something we start the year off with in AP Physics 2,” McCandless said. “It’s looking at the idea of the Bernoulli Principle, which is how fluids flow around an object. It’s great that she made that connection. Her engaged empathy pushed her to learn more. I sent her information on the fair because I thought it would be good for her to participate.”

For the science fair, several judges are assigned to different groups of projects. They walk the room, stop at each booth to ask questions, and inquire about details on the research process. Other contestants came from public, private, and boarding schools. Although Eva and Samael had a relatively short turnaround time for the science fair, they both regarded the experience as beneficial in a number of ways.

Samael said the knowledge gained during their research was the greatest takeaway for her.

“We learned so much about turbines and about liquids, since the story began from the faucet,” she said. “For me, I would say I learned most from the analysis because I had never done that for a real research paper before.”

Eva agrees that research was her greatest takeaway.

“The thing I really took away from this is how to do research. Also how to prepare the equipment, plan ahead for time, and planning the lab. This was also my first time designing in a CAD program and using a 3D printer,” Eva said of her experience.

She encourages other students consider an ILO in their time at Tilton School.  

“I definitely recommend doing an independent learning experience to other students. It is certainly different from taking a class and learning. You have your own goals and your own approach. You can learn much more outside the topic that you actually want to learn.”

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