Constructing a Chair in Physics
Upper School Science Teacher Celine Haselrig and Math Department Chair Steve Miller

Students in physics classes have been studying Newton's laws of motion and the application of forces. One very real force occurs when people sit on chairs, so we decided to challenge the students to support this force … with cardboard only! Students were tasked with having to design a chair that would be able to support science teacher Graig Marx.

After studying forces, students learned about ergonomics, which is the study of making things comfortable for the people that use them. This required them to take a closer look at the measurements of the human body – but not the measurements they were accustomed to considering like chest, waist, and hips. Instead, students found average measurements of different body parts, like the length from the back to the knee to the floor, in order to determine where the seat of a chair should be. All of these measurements factored into their chair designs.

Before the main build, students practiced working with cardboard by learning different attachment and manipulation techniques, since the chairs could only use paper tape to support another type of junction. Their scaled drawings preceded their model making of a chair that was one-sixth the actual size. This step, though seemingly tedious, allowed students to really see any flaws in their designs and then use their models to guide their main build.

Finally, after deciding how to cut into their three pieces of 3'x 8' recycled cardboard sheets and seven 3'x 3' pieces to maximize the supplies they were given, the actual building began. The anticipation of getting to actually sit in their chair mounted as the chairs got bigger, and everyone was excited to finally sit on their end products.

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